In Part I of my exciting series, I explained why I care about undergrad research. Now here are the top 5 reasons why you should care about getting involved in research!
“Undergrad Researcher” is not synonymous with “Head Dishwasher.” Promise.
You learn whether you like research or not. Theses and grad school require a lot a lot a lot of research, no matter which field you’re in. It’s better to figure out if you like research now rather than when you have (1) almost earned your PhD, (2) have to spend an entire year researching, (3) realize you’d rather die than do that, and then (4) end up not getting your PhD. (True story. It happened to one of my English advisors.)
You get to know people. Your prof and the (probably) grad students in your group will teach you a lot about their fields as well as technique and methods, but you also get their grad school application stories, their career advice, and their years of experience. Bonus: You get to see what your professors and TAs really do all day long (and learn how to not make them angry).
It keeps everything in perspective. It’s nice to know exactly how much (or how little) of the stuff you’re learning you will actually use later in life. Learning how that one equation works may not end up being the most important thing ever, but knowing what it’s used for, when you should use it, and understanding the concepts behind it is the really important part. You can always look up stuff, but you can’t look it up if you don’t remember it exists.
The things you learn in class are suddenly much more interesting. Let’s face it: classes—even in your major—are not always interesting. But when you’ve worked with something before and actually want to know what it is and are all dude I had a conversation about this the other day and I had no idea what was going on but THAT’S HOW IT WORKS?, things you learn in class are suddenly much more relevant.
Research is all the fun parts without any of the terrible parts. Even back in AP Chemistry, my favorite labs were the synthesis ones. (okay…besides the labs that involved pretty colors.) Now I get to do synthesis (of compounds that are usually pretty colors) in the name of advancing science and don’t have to do any of the terrible class-related things like get grades or finish the experiments in three/four hours or write lab reports. BEST DEAL EVER.
If you want to get involved in research, visiting the
Undergraduate Research Office website or attending one of the URO’s info sessions (they hold lots of them during the fall) is a really great place to start.
My personal advice? Find someone who is doing what you would like to do (your TA, your prof, another professor), tell them why you’re interested in their work, and ask them how you can get involved. There may be a lot of emailing and waiting
and re-emailing and waiting again and waiting and waiting involved, but getting involved in research really is that simple and definitely does pay off.