Why Should I Do Research?

While scholarly research has always been a part of academic life, it used to be introduced to students only after they had earned their bachelor’s degrees and moved into graduate studies. That's no longer the case.  Research, including creative projects, is now part of the scholarly life of many undergraduates. Such projects allow students to learn their major field in greater depth while working under the mentorship of a faculty member.

Should you be interested in such activities?  We can provide some hints to help you decide for yourself. Please read the six questions below. If you answer yes to any of them, then you should be thinking about participating in research while you are still an undergraduate.

1.   Do you anticipate going to graduate school to earn a master’s or doctoral degree?

If you are considering graduate school, you need to start research as an undergraduate for two important reasons.

First, research experience is important for graduate school admission.  Your experience as an undergraduate researcher will help you to gain admission to the best programs you can find, and will also be an asset as you apply for scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships. More and more, graduate schools expect you to have research experience and will admit applicants who have it before those who do not.

Second, if you lack research experience but are still admitted to a graduate program, you will be behind others who are already skilled researchers.

2.   Are you planning to go into a professional program such as medical school or law school?

Here again, having engaged in mentored research puts you ahead of other applicants who lack that experience and the skills that come with it. If you don’t have experience in a scientific setting such as a hospital or laboratory, then you’ll be at a disadvantage when seeking admission to medical school.

3.   Do you want to work one-on-one with a faculty mentor?

Sometimes students feel anonymous at a large university with a big class size, and they want opportunities to get to know faculty members whose interests are similar to their own. Projects create these opportunities. Your work with a faculty mentor puts you in the position of being tutored by a scholar who already has educational and research accomplishments. Faculty members also enjoy working with talented and motivated students on projects of mutual interest, and are glad to share with you their expertise and knowledge.

4.   Do you think you will ever want to apply for scholarships, awards, or programs that require a recommendation from a faculty member?

Many applications—for scholarships, fellowships, graduate programs, professional school, and awards—require letters of recommendation from faculty members. Working on a project with a faculty mentor means there will be faculty members who know you and your work. Moreover, the letters a faculty mentor writes for you will be considered among the most valuable recommendations you can have—much more effective than a letter that comes from an instructor who knows you only as a student in a particular class.

5.   Do you think you may want or need connections in your field to secure a job or advance your career?

It is good to have someone to talk to about breaking into a field or getting a job that launches your career. A professor who knows not only your work but also your work habits can be extremely helpful in recommending you for positions or pointing you in the right direction.

Also, don’t forget the importance of connections your professors may have to professional peers or former students who are already working in the area in which you are interested. Sometimes, something as simple as a phone call on your behalf can make all the difference.

6.   Do you want to get the most from your undergraduate work?

You should try to take advantage of every opportunity to make the most of your college experience. Engaging in projects, whether in a laboratory, a library, a music or art studio, or elsewhere, is a good way of developing your talents and abilities, finding out the kind of work you are good at, and preparing for graduate study or a career. Such projects often lead to presentations at professional conferences, which can be a great asset as you apply for graduate school, scholarships, or even jobs.