The Importance of Research

“I worked two years doing research, first in nuclear physics and recently in solid state physics: I am a Classics and Physics double major, but I am going to graduate school in Psychology, specifically studying developmental psychology and linguistics. Thus, while I certainly consider conducting research will help me in my future studies; it is the core methodological experience and not specifically the field in which I studied that I will benefit from.”—Grinnell student (SURE, Survey of Undergraduate Research Experiences, 2010)

Performing independent research, in high school or in college, regardless of discipline, can prove invaluable.

Conducting research in high school provides research experience that often translates to the college level. For some career paths, research is mandatory. Specifically, if you are applying for a combined degree, such as a BS/MD program at Northwestern Medical Honors, or the Brown PLME program, your credibility as an applicant is bolstered by any science related research projects performed during your high school years. Such programs as COSMOS through the University of California, or summer research programs through the NIH offer high school students structured research opportunities.

In fact, research at the high school level is so prized that the supplements for both the Northwestern and Harvard applications include requests for submitting research abstracts. One student accepted early at Princeton this year researched style-o-metrics of Elizabethan playwrights and had an article published in the Concord Review (a top academic online publication for high school social sciences): high school research often magnifies an applicant’s intellectual vigor and drive.

It’s not only the elite schools, or the various honor’s programs that evaluate research in their admissions process or implement research opportunities in their undergraduate offerings. Virtually every college and university provides undergraduate students with research opportunities mentored by faculty members. The Council on Undergraduate Research, www.cur.org, has over 650 institutional members ranging from Bucknell University and Boise State to Fort Lewis College (a public school with fewer than 4,000 undergraduates, located in Durango, Colorado with annual out of state tuition of $16,000) and Cal State Long Beach.

UG research is by no means reserved just for the sciences: it extends into virtually every nook and cranny of the arts and humanities, economics, history, sociology, political science, health sciences, and psychology.

That Pepperdine’s psychology department values undergraduate research is evidenced on its website where the department explicitly states under the heading, ‘Objectives of the Major,’ ‘…faculty sets demanding standards of excellence in written expression, especially in writing for scientific publication.’ It then contains an entire section on student research which features three programs ‘unique’ to Pepperdine: a Summer Undergraduate Research Program, a 12-week Interdisciplinary UG Research Program, and an Academic UG Research Initiative which provides faculty with grants to support student research projects.

NYU offers its biology undergraduates access to an open laboratory, to its Gencore’s Illumina HiSeq 2000 gene sequencing machine, and its many laser, spinning disk, and photon microscopes. The possibilities of conducting high level UG Research using the shared equipment and resources at NYU are endless.

All this dedication to UG research is for a very good reason: undergraduate research does far more than serve to fill a student’s resume. It integrates theory and application while it teaches the research process, literature review, data analysis, and, of utmost importance, places students in partnership with a mentor faculty, usually an eminent professor in the chosen field of research. This leads to increased retention, increased enrollment in graduate programs, and promotes an ‘innovation-oriented culture.’

Research from SURE (Survey of Undergraduate Research Experience) further indicates that when students take classes in the same department in which they conducted research, they become more independent problem solvers, develop a more innate desire to learn and master a subject, and, in essence become more active learners. No further  research is necessary to confirm the utility of these outcomes.