Why Does Undergraduate Research Matter?
Research will provide you tools to engage issues and to solve problems. When your intellect, imagination, and a fascinating field of study begin to form connections, your journey will turn off the well-traveled highways of academic life and lead you toward the lanes and by-ways that invite your discoveries. Such exploration becomes integral to some students' way of life in college.
If you maximize your undergraduate education at Baylor, you will be prepared to line up your skills, your talents, your interests, your values, and your sense of a meaningful trajectory for your life by the end of your senior year. And you will be ready to think critically, to engage questions with energy and confidence, to contribute to new knowledge, or even to make discoveries that will help us build a better world.
How does Undergraduate Research Enrich the Baylor Experience?
Research will help you cultivate relationships with professors, allowing them to become mentors for you, not just instructors of a particular subject. You'll gain a deeper understanding of your field and become better connected to people and resources that can help you succeed.
We find that students who complete independent research projects are often energized to maximize their education. Research experience will help you to develop the leadership skills, confidence, and savvy to participate in the larger conversation of your discipline through national meetings, conferences, and perhaps even publication. Supportive environments within departments foster a climate in which students are encouraged to become engaged learners.
What are the Traditional Routes to Undergraduate Research Across Disciplines?
- Laboratory research in sciences and engineering.
- Field research in the natural and social sciences and in some of the humanities.
- Data analysis in business.
- Text-based research in the humanities--both primary and secondary sources.
- Creative projects in fine arts and humanities.
Broadly Speaking, What Path Would a Student Follow as an Undergraduate Researcher?
If you are registered for a course in research, you will follow the guidelines given by your professor. But many students want to do independent research. If you feel a bit insecure about initiating a research proposal, the following overview may help calm your fear of the unknown. Thus, here are some of the steps you may follow as an independent researcher once you have secured a faculty mentor:
The first year you would probably be given fairly basic tasks by your mentor. Every student researcher has had to perform day-to-day tasks, such as locate resources and secure materials or create bibliographies, take notes in meetings, clean up lab samples, do routine checking and monitoring of samples or laboratory experiments. As a student, you may find this is a difficult phase because you have no frame of reference for doing the work you will be asked to do. So the first phase may not be terribly exciting, but be patient and persistent. Your exposure to information and others interested in the same field is valuable and gives you basic skills you will refer to again and again in the field. Excellence in any task is noticed!
After you have been working for a professor for a month or two, however, you will understand the basics of how the lab works, what the best resources are, where the materials are located in cyberspace or elsewhere, and how to use your time efficiently. Maybe you will be invited to sit in on meetings among the researchers. Maybe the professor will give you some independent tasks to do that require both organizational skills and your thinking through how to move the research project forward. Maybe you will drive an expert to campus from the airport--or be invited to dinner with a faculty team who has asked an authority in the field to speak here.
By your second year in research, you may be involved in many things:
- You may be invited to analyze some of the data yourself.
- You may be researching and writing drafts of parts of an important study that is directed by your mentor.
- You could be invited to attend a conference where others more advanced in your field are discussing issues that you find riveting.
Maybe you will present a poster at a conference showing your work in progress. By now you will have learned where some of the great internships in this field are offered--and you may begin to plan your summers around enriching the experience you are having on campus.
Thus, you begin to build a network of colleagues within your own university and beyond. These sorts of experiences help you clarify your goals and your identity. Then, you will also acquire the skills and the learning community within which you will build the support necessary to go forward toward leadership in an area of expertise.