Whatever your future plants, from doctor to graduate school to everything in between, undergraduate research sets the stage for future success!
What is Undergraduate Research?
Undergraduate researchers play a vital role in many laboratories at NMSU. Undergraduates work under a Faculty PI (Principal investigator), or their graduate students, on projects that are typically already ongoing in that researcher’s lab. Undergrads gain perspective on how a lab is organized from personnel to dishes to ordering; and on how careful, scientific research is conducted in the real world. Undergraduate projects vary from lab to lab, and often students are given opportunities to present their work in a public forum.
But I’m going to medical school, why should I do research?
If you are planning to apply to medical, dental, physical therapy, etc. school, you want to make sure you stand out from the crowd. All applicants will have high GPAs and have scored well on their entrance exam. You need to demonstrate that you are able to do what everyone else has done and then some. You should gain experience with a doctor, dentist, or professional in your intended field, but in addition research is not only a valuable learning experience, it demonstrates commitment to more than just schoolwork. Additionally, undergraduate research programs such as AMP, HHMI, MARC, RISE, etc. only accept students by application, and it furthers your resume to have been a part of a program for which you were selected!
I’m just a Freshman… how soon can I start doing research?
This will depend on the program (previous question) and /or faculty member that you become involved with. Some programs want undergraduates to begin early in their career, some researchers may take on students who have completed introductory course work first. Begin finding out information about program requirements by going to their websites, and checking with individual researchers about what they want to see in a student who works in their lab (see”What is the best way to go about finding a faculty researcher to work with?” below).
I already have a heavy school load, and I work. How can I fit in research, too?
In many cases, undergraduate research positions are paid positions; especially if you are accepted into a research program. This may be able to replace employment outside of the university, and is often able to be scheduled around your classes.
Do I have to get undergraduate research experience if I want to go to graduate school or medical school?
You do not have to do anything. You do, however, want to think about your future and how you plan to set your self apart from the others who will be applying to the same position you are. For those seeking careers in research positions, your future employer and/or advisor will find it desirable to employ someone with previous research and presentation experience. If you are planning on entering the medical sciences, and are spending your time shadowing or gaining other relevant experiences, then those are appropriate ways to set yourself apart by demonstrating your ability to gain advanced skills and attend to more than just school work.
What is the best way to go about finding a faculty researcher?
Do your homework. First, explore the faculty members that do research in the general field that interests you. Remember also that while we love our Biology faculty there may be faculty in FWCE, EPPWS, Chemistry, Biochemistry, etc. that also do engaging research. Choose 2-3 researchers and go to their webpages. Read some of their recent publications. Then, once you are informed, speak to the faculty member in person. Emails are OK for setting up a meeting time, but do not ask to work in someone’s lab via email. You can not demonstrate your ability to communicate, your knowledge of their research, or why/how you would be an asset in their lab as effectively via email.
OK, so I get that it bolsters my resume, and gives me experience, what other benefits are there from working in a lab as an undergraduate?
Often, a laboratory is like a little family of its own. There may be other undergraduates that have taken courses you are about to take and can give recommendations on faculty members, study habits, etc. You may see some of the stagnant textbook material you have been digesting in your classes put into action and make more sense. You may learn that research is fantastic, the scientific community enlightening and fun, and that you want nothing more than to continue moving toward a degree and a career in this field. You will see graduate students, Post Docs, Technicians, and PIs working toward the common goal of advancing scientific knowledge. You may also learn that you think lab work is boring, doing long experiments and collecting data is tedious, and presenting your work is terrifying. Both are extremely valuable things to learn before you decide that graduate school, medical school, or research science are your ultimate career of choice!