DePaul University Career Center's Blog

Undergraduate Research: The Value and How to Get Involved

Sabah Nanlawala

No matter what field you’re in or what your career aspirations are, undergraduate research experience is an enriching opportunity that broadens classroom learning and allows you to gain valuable skills. In this article, you will learn what you can gain from doing research and how to get involved in research opportunities as an undergraduate student.

Why Should You Participate in Graduate Research?

you have learned in the classroom towards experimental, clinical, and other practical uses. This will deepen your knowledge of a subject and broaden your understanding of research design and methodology.

Cultivate strong mentor relationships. Mentors play a key role in your research experience. Whether they are the principal investigator of the lab, a faculty member, or even a graduate student, they will all challenge you with new ways of thinking and learning with their valuable experience and knowledge. As your relationship deepens, they can also serve as valuable advisors and answer any questions you have about your field of interest, next steps after graduation, and more. They are also a great choice for writing a strong recommendation letter for you!

Gain valuable transferable skills. Regardless of whether you pursue research after you graduate or as your career, you will have gained valuable skills that will make you a competitive applicant for many opportunities. Through research, you will have gained many skills including hard technical skills such as survey design (i.e. Qualtrics, Survey Monkey), data visualization/interpretation (i.e. SPSS statistical software, R Studio), and other research-specific skills such as transcribing, data analysis, coding, and more. With this, you will also gain a wide range of transferable skills in critical thinking, project management, presentation, communication, time management, problem-solving and so much more.    

Explore different career and postgraduate options. Whether or not you’re interested in pursuing a career in research, participating in it during your undergraduate studies allows you to dip your toes into something you may not be familiar with. It is an opportunity for you to explore your interests and learn valuable skills to help you explore and prepare for potential career or postgraduate opportunities. Especially if you are considering graduate school (i.e. PhD, MA etc.), having research experience as an undergraduate student makes you a competitive applicant. 

Tips Before Getting Involved in Research:

Think about what topic you are interested in. It is important to have a sense of what you are interested in researching and learning. This will help you find and narrow down relevant research opportunities that align with what you are looking for, so that you may maximize your experience to fit your academic and professional goals. You may even be asked about your research interests before being recruited for a position, so it is beneficial to have an answer prepared in advance. 

Talk with people in your network. Many of your professors are principal investigators at a lab, and may be recruiting undergraduate students as research assistants. Approach them after class or through email and show your enthusiasm and interest in their subject of research, and inquire about any opportunities to get involved. Graduate teaching assistants, your classmates, and peers in student organizations may also be able to connect you to labs that they are working in.

Look for external opportunities. If you are struggling with finding research positions at your university, look at opportunities at other organizations such as hospitals, medical centers, museums, non-profit organizations, and others. It’s a great way to find a lab or study that better aligns with your goals and interests and to have more options. Check out the College of Science and Health webpage for some opportunities.

Familiarize yourself with the research of the lab you’re interested in. Whether you are getting in touch in person or through email, familiarize yourself with the lab and faculty’s research to showcase how it aligns with your goals. You could find this information by talking with people within the lab or browsing through their lab’s website. Websites are also a great place to gauge if a lab has a strong record of welcoming undergraduate students in their research. For opportunities at DePaul, check out the College of Science and Health’s faculty page to learn more about their specific research and publications.  

Prepare your materials. Some opportunities may require you to submit a resume, curriculum vitae, and/or a cover letter. Make sure to have those documents updated, and if you are able, have someone else look over it and provide feedback. If you are reaching out through email, make sure to introduce yourself, your interest in their research, and how you can contribute to their work. Ensure that you present yourself as knowledgeable, informed, and professional, and don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm. And don’t forget to thank them for their consideration! 

Don’t stress out if you don’t hear back or are not offered a position. Most often PI’s are very busy and may not have read your email or had the chance to respond. Don’t be afraid to follow-up and check in. Research opportunities are highly competitive, so it’s also recommended to reach out to multiple research opportunities for more options. And if you are interested in a specific lab and they are currently full or not recruiting at the time, stay in touch with the faculty or lab manager to be informed of future opportunities.

Remember that it is okay to not have any prior research experience. While it is great to have such skills and knowledge before entering such opportunities, remember that most labs are encouraged to be educational spaces. Unless they specify requirements for previous knowledge or experience, do not feel intimidated to reach out.

Pursuing research in your undergraduate studies is a great way for you to network with other people, gain deeper knowledge about your field of interest, shape your career goals, and gain valuable skills. Your undergraduate years are meant for exploration, and the sooner you get research experience, the better you can reevaluate or solidify your interests and goals and plan out your next steps. 

Check out your college or department’s website and Handshake for potential internal and external opportunities. 

Need help finding research opportunities or preparing your application materials? Schedule an appointment with a Career Advisor or Ambassador on Handshake or by calling the front desk at (773) 325-7431 for all career-related questions and services. 

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