Since coming to the University of Michigan, you’ve probably heard about “research.” But what exactly does that mean? And why should you get involved? The Perch Blogs Team is here to give you the rundown.
What is undergraduate research?
It might be easiest to define what undergraduate research shouldn’t be: Solely cleaning up used glassware or keeping inventory. Though these types of roles might allow you to make a quick buck, it won’t contribute to your intellectual development like a real research experience would.
Undergraduate research experience should involve a project that seeks to advance scientific knowledge. When you first join a lab, you’ll likely work closely with a graduate student or postdoctoral mentor, who will help familiarize you with the project you’re working on and guide you through the techniques and background of the project. Eventually, with your hard work and commitment, you will gain more independence and be able to tackle projects on your own.
Why should you do research?
You’ll learn a lot. A research project is similar to a tough exam problem, but that tough exam problem has no known answer. Indeed, every research project starts with a question with no answer, and the next research project springs up from a new question that arises from the answer to the previous question. Undergraduate research also offers a great way to see how the concepts you learn about in class pan out in real life, or an excellent opportunity to learn deeply about a topic that fascinates you in a structured setting outside of the classroom.
You’ll fail. We know what you’re thinking: Why would I ever want to fail? But failing, while it may be a bummer, is part of the research process — in fact, it’s encouraged. Overcoming failure in a research setting will allow you to build problem-solving skills and resourcefulness. And sometimes, when things don’t work quite the way you thought, you’ll actually end up with a more surprising result than what you initially were anticipating.
You’ll be contributing to society’s advancement. From life-saving medication to the device you’re using to read this article now, nearly all of our technological advances started in the lab. By conducting research, you’ll be able to work on real-world problems where the solutions are not yet known and have a tangible impact on the way we understand the world.
It’ll help your career. Whether or not you end up pursuing a research career, undergraduate research will allow you to develop a myriad of professional skills that will aid you later on. Working in the lab will allow you to hone skills from teamwork to time management. Additionally, working on tough problems many times a week will allow you to build a close network of people who can support you. These relationships will be invaluable to you as you progress throughout your academic career and into the working world.