Many students stand on the precipice of a future after being bundled in the confines of their institution, wondering what comes next for them as they don that cap and gown. Confidence for stepping into the unknown is something many professors at Weber State University try to give their students. Undergraduate research may help give students that edge and experience that eases them into their future.
“For students in a wide diversity of different disciplines, participation in undergraduate research is really important, not just for science students, obviously,” said John Cavitt, director of undergraduate research at WSU. “It is important for students interested in graduate schools, professional schools and so forth, but also careers.”
Cavitt said undergraduate research also allows students to grow certain skills that can help in more than just their chosen fields — life skills and characteristics that may benefit them more than career advancement.
“Experience provides you with very, very important learning opportunities. For example, students who participate in undergraduate research learn independence; they learn how to communicate both written communication, oral communication, and they learn an awful lot about their discipline when they engage in undergraduate research. And you can imagine that those characteristics are very important to those who are hiring our students.”
It’s typical that, while performing undergraduate research, students can learn things they typically wouldn’t in a classroom setting. Always in research, problems come up with experiments or hypotheses, Cavitt said, which develops a different set of problem-solving skills.
Cavitt said students should start early. Undergraduate research can take a semester or more to get started and can stretch for more than a semester.
Kathryn Bessembinder, who received her bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Utah, said she wishes she would have taken the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research as she looks toward graduate school.
“It’s got to be a good idea for experience. I do wish I had done something, but at the same time, I did participate in the studies. It’s a good idea for grad school applications.”
WSU student Josh Hall wasted no time in doing his undergraduate research with a bird called the American avocet that nests on the Great Salt Lake. Hall studied more than 200 American avocet nests, using thermal probes to test the consistency of incubation through three different phases of incubation.
“The two most influential experiences in my undergraduate experience have been volunteer work and research,” Hall said. “Research has taught me how to find important questions, obtain funding, present my ideas to peers and, most importantly, trust my own ideas. It has been the experience that has most prepared me for the real world. It has given me a sense of sincere accomplishment and contribution to the scientific community.”
For students who want to work with a faculty member to perform research, it may take time to find that faculty member who is doing research. Many departments have faculty research pages on the WSU website so students can find out who is doing what kind of research.
Students can also find experiences off campus. A number of opportunities are available during the summer. Students can even travel around the country through the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates. The process, however, can be more competitive than conducting research closer to home.
Once students have found their faculty mentor, they can apply for research grants or travel grants through the Office of Undergraduate Research.
The Office of Undergraduate Research is available to students throughout the process, including the stage of getting their research out there through conferences, publications and presentations to Utah’s legislature.
More information and applications are available at www.weber.edu/our.