Undergraduate Research: Joys and Perils

It is an article of faith among scientists that undergraduate students benefit from participating in research. This is understandable—doing research is surely more engaging that merely reading about it. But wouldn’t it be nice to know what students themselves expect to obtain from a research experience? And wouldn’t it also be nice to know whether their experiences match their expectations?

A recent study from the University of Georgia, a large research university, attempts to answer these questions. The results are one part predictable and another part unexpected.

When it comes to improving GPA and finding help for getting into graduate school, students report significantly better outcomes that they expected from their undergrad research experience. The first of these is expected since learning about science by doing it in the lab would likely enhance a student’s understanding of classroom-based work. The second result is heartening because it suggests that students do not do research simply to pad their resumes for admission to grad school, and are then surprised when it actually works to their advantage for furthering their education.

On the other side of the coin (don’t all coins have two sides?) the students’ research experience fell short of their expectations in terms of  increasing their faculty connections and getting authorship on publications. Thus, students seeking closer relationships with science faculty had best find ways other than research to do so. Surprising. On the other hand, that the hope for a publication is dashed is likely to the good—science is hard work and the ultimate reward of seeing one's name in print does not come just for the asking.

Tom Tritton is President and CEO of CHF.

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Posted In: Education

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