Doing Research: How to Get Started
One of the goals of the new Office of Engaged Learning in the College of Arts & Sciences is to help students gain access to the increasing amount and quality of undergraduate research experiences available on campus. For Baylor undergraduates looking to do serious research, experts in the Office say there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about starting that journey.
“Five years ago, a student came into my office and said, ‘I need to join a lab. It doesn’t matter which lab it is. I just need to join a lab right away,’” said Dr. Riz Klausmeyer, director of undergraduate research in the Office of Engaged Learning. “I replied, ‘That’s not the way to go about it.”
The best way for an undergraduate student to begin the process of pursuing research while at Baylor, Klausmeyer said, is to do a little research of their own at the start.
“Go talk to graduate students doing research. See if they’re happy, if they like what they’re doing and if they get along with the professor,” she said.
Undergraduate research is important, Klausmeyer said, because graduate schools expect students to already have research experience, especially those in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.
“You will have to prove that you can be trusted in a laboratory before they actually trust you to join one,” she said. Student research opportunities are abundant on the Baylor campus. Here are snapshot glimpses of several programs, fellowships and majors that offer serious research experience for Baylor undergraduates.
In today's college experience, student research isn’t limited to graduate students. In fact, research conducted by undergraduate students is the sole focus of the Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Achievement (URSA) initiative at Baylor. Research opportunities vary by major, but students of any discipline can take part in lab and field research, data analysis, text-based research or creative projects. Freshman and sophomore students are welcome in URSA, and some departments even offer undergraduate research grants.
For undergraduate students strictly interested in scientific research, Baylor Undergraduate Research in Science & Technology (BURST) is an organization to become part of. BURST not only will educate undergraduates in the proper habits and techniques of research in scientific fields, but also gives students opportunities to take part in journal clubs, where they read and discuss research articles in a field of their preference. The group also hosts laboratory tours, that are overseen by science faculty members, and students attend academic conferences, lectures and workshops during the year.
The BURST website (baylor.edu/burst) contains a list of faculty members from every science discipline — from anthropology to statistics — along with their research areas so students can find an area they might wish to pursue.
Since 2014, BURST has produced an annual journal called Scientia. The student-created journal contains review and research articles written by students in the program.
In 2017, the College of Arts & Sciences added the Science Research Fellows (SRF) major, an innovative interdisciplinary degree plan that places a strong emphasis on scientific research. As Science Research Fellows, students are placed in research labs during the fall semester of their sophomore year, where they will perform research for at least two years. During their senior year, Fellows can remain in their chosen lab — which increases their chances for research publication as an undergraduate — or they can mentor students who are in their first year of the program.
Research instruction begins in the freshman year, when SRF students are required to take a research methods class. The SRF major — “the first of its kind in the nation,” according to program officials — is aimed at high-achieving students, most of whom will go on to earn a doctorate or medical degree. The major accepts only about 10 new students each year.
The Baylor Transdisciplinary Research Undergraduate Experience (B-TRUE) is an intense summer program that offers 10 undergraduate students the opportunity to work alongside Baylor faculty members who act as principal investigators. During the 10-week program, the B-TRUE students assist in every aspect of lab work, have access to advanced equipment and techniques, and receive exposure to research topics in fields such as anthropology, biology, chemistry/biochemistry, environmental science, geosciences, physics and psychology/neuroscience.
B-TRUE, which offers students a $4,000 stipend, is designed for rising sophomores and juniors.
Tropical medicine research
Prehealth students at Baylor also have an opportunity for a summer research program. The National School of Tropical Medicine (NTSM) at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) hosts an intensive two-week program at its campus within the Texas Medical Center in Houston. The program familiarizes students with issues in global and public health as well as the infectious, parasitic, nutritional and neglected tropical diseases that affect the world’s most vulnerable populations. Students work in labs alongside BCM faculty and visit other research centers in and around the Texas Medical Center.
When the NSTM was founded in 2011, “it was students from Baylor University in Waco who’d heard about us and started contacting us,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, NTSM’s dean. Baylor students “emailed and called us, telling us about their Christian commitment to working overseas…and they wanted an intellectual framework upon which to base what they were seeing and experiencing overseas.” The National School of Tropical Medicine, in collaboration with Baylor University’s prehealth program, also offers an eight-week internship called the Tropical Diseases Research Internship Program, or TDRIP. The five Baylor students chosen for it through a competitive application process — most of whom are planning on a career in global healthcare — work in NSTM labs on vaccine development. At the end of the program, the students make a presentation to supervising faculty and others.
The William and Argye Hillis Scholars in Biomedical Science Program at Baylor offers scholarship support, research opportunities, internships, programming and travel funds and more to students headed for careers in medical professions. Application preference is given to students demonstrating financial need and first-generation college students. The program was created in 2014 in honor of Dr. William Hillis, who was an administrator and science faculty member at Baylor for more than 30 years, and his wife, Dr. Argye Hillis.
Each spring semester, Baylor students who have taken part in academic research are urged to show the results of their work during Scholars Week. The presentations can range from posters done by students in mathematics and the sciences, to new movies from film students to platform presentations by humanities students. This showcase of student work helps students fine tune accomplishments that lead to grad school, applications for internships, awards and other endeavors.