Originally written by Josh Moody for U.S. News in September 2019.
Undergraduate research opportunities extend across disciplines, taking many forms and offering benefits regardless of major, experts say, noting that such work helps students develop a variety of skills that employers value. Undergraduate research opportunities vary by college, but experts say the experience is really what students make of it.
The nonprofit Council on Undergraduate Research defines undergraduate research as “an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.” But what an undergraduate research program looks like can vary, taking many forms and methods across disciplines. A history major, for example, probably won’t have to worry about microscopes and mathematical formulas, but he or she may complete fieldwork or engage with archival materials. What typically will hold true for all disciplines is how students approach research.
Numerous models exist for undergraduate research. Some students may serve as research assistants, working under a faculty member’s supervision. Opportunities exist to conduct research domestically and abroad. Additionally, students may conduct research as part of a thesis attached to their major, while others may study independently with direction from a faculty mentor.
In addition to developing skills, undergraduate research also is an opportunity to connect with professors. While student interactions may differ based on the undergraduate research model, faculty will always be central to the project. Students can expect to work closely with faculty mentors, whether in an assistant role or doing their own research. Though faculty members serve as a guiding hand, research projects are often the first substantive work students engage in without a syllabus or answer key. Other benefits identified by academics include helping students develop a professional identity and connecting to the community in their chosen discipline, boosting interest in graduate school, increasing confidence and intercultural competency. Scholars also note that undergraduate research can boost retention and personal satisfaction with a school.
To find a research opportunity at Johns Hopkins University, visit the Hopkins Office of Undergraduate Research website.