No more “research will improve your abstract skills” bs! Here we’ll explain 5 PRACTICAL and TANGIBLE benefits EVERY college student gets out of undergraduate research.
If you are fortunate enough to go to a school where inspiring research is an integral part of what every TA and Professor on your campus does, then you might want to consider getting involved in undergraduate research!
Whether or not you are considering to pursue a graduate school, being open to the possibility of working in the lab or study can reap huge rewards.
Even if you never thought about improving your research skills or didn’t know how to start, consider the following reasons why you should try to find a lab or study that is right for you.
1. Get Units to Graduate!
Although everyone can and should be allowed to go at their own pace, college is still expensive and getting your degree in 4 years (or less) is usually the traditional plan. Research institutes want to encourage students to explore the frontiers of research, and to show for it, many schools will offer units to students who are willing to dedicate time to a lab.
For instance, UCSB offers up to 5 units per quarter for students to participate in on-campus undergraduate research. These come in a 99 course or a 199 course for lower division and upper division credit respectively. This allows for you, the student, to get credit for the time you spend working in a lab. If your major allows it, you can use these credits to graduate.
Be aware that there is usually a cap on how many units you’ll be able to take. For example, UCSB allows me to get up to 8 UD (Upper Division) units that will count toward my Major requirements to graduate. If I have to take two bio classes a quarter to graduate on time, then doing 4 units of research for two quarters grants me the flexibility to take GE’s, classes I’m interested in (Beer Brewing anyone?), or even possibly graduate a WHOLE Quarter early. That’s almost up to $5,000 tuition dollars I’d be saving!
Granted, you will need to work with your professor or PI to see how many units per quarter/semester you could earn in exchange for the agreed upon hours. However, even if you’re only approved for 2 units a quarter, over the course of 4 quarters you’d get the same results.
I’ve noticed that usually, 1 unit equates to around 3-4 hours. However, this can vary from professor to professor. Some professors maybe relaxed requiring only 6 hours per 2 unit, while others may be strict about how many hours they expect from you.
Regardless, go get your units!
2. Easy A for Doing Undergraduate Research?
So now you know your research gets you units. They can also get you a Letter Grade. Usually, research units can come in either Pass/No Pass or, with approval from your professor and school department, a Letter Grade.
This process is actually really simple. Ask your advisor, professor, or department in charge of giving you an add code if you could receive a letter grade for your work.
Please note this usually comes with a written assignment that can also vary. My research requires I fill out reports of my progress every week while others simply require a 1-3 page summary at the end of the quarter.
Even the demand for getting undergraduate research units varies for every lab/study. For instances, I did a summer research internship where I had to spend 30 hours a week for 6 weeks to get 4 units. My friends in a different lab only had to do 10 hours a week for 9 weeks for 2 units a quarter*.
*The Quarter System in college is 10 weeks versus the 15 week Semester System
However, if I had to choose between taking two midterms and a final meant to fix me up on a curve, with other smart students or doing busy work that I would bolster my CV and almost guarantee me an A, then I’d probably prefer the latter.
On the contrast, I could have spent up to 90 hours a quarter (or 10 hours a week for 9 weeks) for 2 units though. It’s up to you. What do you think?
3. Undergraduate Research Makes Your Resume Stand Out
In today’s age, it seems like everyone has told you to go to college. Now everyone has seems to have a college degree. You may have worked to have a strong GPA and you became president of your Anime club. You even got your resume reviewed by Career Services. All these things are obvious ways to help you stand out amongst the crowd. However there’s one activity people often overlook in helping them stand out in the workforce.
Research is not exclusively for just beefy up premed and aspiring graduate student resumes. It’s a tool that can help you flex your critical and analytical skills. It gives you the opportunity to show how well you
- Handle pressure
- Work under an experienced supervisor
- Developed oral communication skills (if you presented a poster)
- Network (meeting other researchers at colloquiums)
- Acquire funding
- Build your academic recognition (brand recognition)
- Develop prestige (working under nationally recognized faculty)
Not to mention experience leading your own undergraduate research proposals. The list goes on!
Ok research in itself might not make you stand out especially with how many other people engage in it. It especially won’t if all you do for is count flies all day. But if your research experience leads you to a publication, or help develop any of the skills listed above, then you’ll definitely be a stand out applicant to anything you apply to.
Why else do students pay the $12000 premium to go to a University of California campus when the local state school can get you a similar degree? Because of the prestige that accompanies world-class research institutions.
Not being involved in research, especially after paying the premium, could arguably diminish your return on investment. If you’re paying the price, go reap the rewards.
4. Get a Killer Letter of Recommendation
This is an obvious one. Usually, to advance yourself, many internships, graduate programs, or companies may ask for a letter of recommendation. This offers credibility to your name whenever you have someone professional recommend you. Recommendations also ensure these entities will get a return on investment when looking to access, accept, or hire you. And who’s better to ask than your Professor, TA (Teaching Assistant), PI (Private Investigator, AKA the professor or professional) that you’re doing undergraduate research under!
Letters of rec also give the employer or institution a chance to see another professional rave about everything you already said in your resume and more!
If you are having trouble asking for a letter of recommendation check out this article link from med school insiders here.
Often we can forget about the skills and personal growth certain challenges may present us. I ALREADY KNOW every College Advise website has filled you up with these same notes. BUT it’s only because it’s absolutely true that you’ll improve these intangible skills. So I decided to tell you the exact same perks but with wild stories and 10-out-of-10-tips you won’t see in any other research perks article. I tried to make note of them here:
5. Building Camaraderie With Your Undergrad Lab or Research Group
In a majority of workspaces, you will be inquired and judged of how effective you’ll be able to communicate and work in a team.
Working in a lab, you’ll work as a part of a team. This team consists of your PI, the TA, and often times other undergrads.
Over the course of a quarter or a semester, you’ll be held accountable for your role in the lab while also expected to communicate clearly with your team. This consequently leads to you having to force yourself to develop interpersonal skills that can last throughout your lifetime.
6. Creating Memorable Moments With Your Undergraduate Research Team
Imagine the excitement you’ll feel once your project is finally complete. Where your lab results came out conclusive. Where you can final take a pic of your poster and post it on Facebook for your feed to flex on all your hyper-competitive premed friends.
You’ll finally get to reflect upon all the hours you spent looking at a petri dish at 2 am or research relevant articles. You’ll look at the final product and realize, it was all worth it.
And these memories don’t have to be exclusively academic. It’s common for undergraduates to grow close to their research supervisors and get together with them in non-academic settings. I personally knew of some of my friends who can reach out, text, and even hang out with their professors.
CRAZY SHORT STORY: I actually got the chance to play Beer Die with my friends Professor/PI because they were so close! I’m not even joking
Many people say college is what you make of it, I’d like to say it’s also true for undergrad research.
Quick Creative Ways of Getting the 99/199 (AKA research units)
1. Drop in a randomly into a class: Getting experience by connecting to the professor directly.
Go drop into a class that you know a teacher offers. Even if you aren’t enrolled just do it. Usually, the professor stays after class to answer questions. That’s when you can find out about the research they are doing!
From my experiences, I dropped into this Parasitology Research Seminar filled with graduate students and superstar undergraduates. Honestly, I knew nothing about arthropods and anything else parasite related. Hell, there was this freshman in the class who literally was already published. She even had a presentation ready on Day 1!
To be fair, her Dad was a decorated professor. Turns out this dude discovered parasites can have mind control over fish. So I guess I couldn’t feel too bad. But in spite of being completely outclassed and ignorant, I explained my excitement to learn. Simply by putting in effort to meet the professor and explaining my interest, he offered to take me on for a 199! I’m not saying it will always be that easy but put yourself out there and the results could surprise you!
2. Side Door: Getting through via a recommendation or someone who has an in
This usually involved getting someone who you already know to ask and or recommend you for a lab position
In my experiences, I actually had told an adviser of my issues finding undergraduate research positions. After telling him my story, he recommended me to a research position at a clinic outside of campus. Talk about a homie.
For my friend, he actually was extremely close to one of his friends who was involved in cell research. Despite having NO previous experience, he knew undergraduate research was something he wanted to do.
“We’re at a research institute. What other time will we get the chance to do research?” – My Friend
Even though the lab was difficult to get in to, his friend highly recommended him to the professor. By highlighting his ability to overcome adversity and rise up to challenges my friend received an interview with the professor. The rest was history.
The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t be afraid to try and put yourself out there. The worst thing that can happen is that the professor says no. Believe in yourself and give it a chance. Especially when the benefits definitely are too good to pass up.
So these are some of the biggest perks of how participating in research.
If you want me to dive further into this topic let me know in the comments below! I can explore research through the lens of someone trying to get a post-graduate job. Or even go in-depth on how to obtain a undergraduate research position.
In case y’all were curious, I’m worked as a Research and Project Coordinator. I studied the effectiveness of blood glucose monitoring devices for type 1 diabetics. I also assisted with monitoring the impact of diabetes education for vulnerable patients with gestational diabetes.
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