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)

Conducting research in high school provides 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 BUGS at USC, or RISE at Boston University (, which offers both internship and practicum summer tracks, present opportunities for high school students to build college level research inquiries and skills.

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. High school research often magnifies an applicant’s intellectual vigor and drive.

Virtually every college and university provides undergraduate students with research opportunities mentored by faculty members. The Council on Undergraduate Research,, 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) and Cal State Long Beach.

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

Northwestern University has an office dedicated to undergraduate research It takes you through the entire spectrum of defining a research area and topic, accessing library resources, working with faculty, getting grants, and publishing your research in a variety of forms. Go to any major at Northwestern, say the English department, and there is information on research help, the Getting Started page guides you to dictionaries, databases and various other research exotica at the fingertips of the Northwestern research librarian ( There is even a PDF of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style on the NU English research site. Go ahead and use it.   (

In fact, always be aware of the utility of a research librarian. At Yale (and probably at many of the top libraries in the country), there are specific librarians assigned certain majors. Most are multilingual and very knowledgeable of his or her area of expertise. Use them well and likely you will gain knowledge of materials only the most informed are cognizant of.

If you’re hesitant, to begin initial review of an area of research, get a copy of The Craft of Research (4th Edition) University of Chicago Press. It covers what it takes to become a researcher, plan your project, assemble your research argument, write it up, and publish it.

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.