Undergraduate Research: How and why to get involved

In the current situation, in-person research has been complicated by distance and occupancy regulations. However, undergraduates are still conducting research everyday, with much of the work being completed virtually and new regulations to ensure safety in labs. Photo provided by author

On Tuesday evening the Office of Undergraduate Research conducted a workshop discussing everything one must know about undergraduate research: How to get involved, where to start and why networking is so important. Assistant Director Melissa Berkey was joined by eighth-semester mechanical engineering major Oreoluwa Olowe and eighth-semester cognitive science major Pavitra Makarla.  

The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) is a resource for all undergraduates in all majors, on all UConn campuses, seeking to enrich their undergrad experience through participation in research, scholarship and creative activity. The center hosts workshops, seminars, events, advising appointments and numerous online resources to aid students in their research journey.  

One of the biggest contributing factors to successful research is the power of networking. Berkey dives into two different search strategies: reactive and proactive. Reactive search studies can be referred to as posted opportunities, for example, a job description that you can apply to and then submit your application. On the contrary, proactive search strategies refer to ones that stem from relationships built through networking.  

“The majority of opportunities are found through proactive search strategies,” said Berkey. “Identifying faculty whose work aligns with your interests and then building relationships with those faculty to help them with their research.”  

The OUR has numerous tools that work to aid students in building their relationships with faculty. Lincus, a UConn database, helps one identify which faculty members align with areas of their interest. Other ways to learn about research happening at UConn is by reviewing department, faculty and research websites, along with UConn Today and other media outlets.  

While reaching out to faculty may seem intimidating, there is no reason one should feel that way. Connecting with faculty is about developing relationships and connections for advice, guidance and mentorship as you work.  

Though it’s often easiest to start searching within your major, you may find that there are many faculty members working on topics aligned with your interests in other departments. During the Office of Undergraduate Research presentation on January 19th, presenters showed participants an example of the different areas that all connect to human health. Photo provided by author

“Introduce yourself, make a connection to their work and ask for a conversation to discuss their research,” said Berkey.  

Berkey advises to steer away from initially asking to participate in their lab, but rather showcasing that you are passionate and interested about the same work which they are. This will allow the faculty member to build a relationship with you, before committing to anything long term. The OUR website has email templates that students can use when reaching out to faculty.  

While COVID-19 has impacted the research world, undergraduates are still conducting research everyday. Most of the work can be done remotely, allowing students to perform their work from the comfort of their own home. New safety protocols have been put in place so that work done in labs can be achieved in a safe and successful manner.  

Conducting research has numerous benefits: it allows students to delve into an area of interest, build research skills, consider career paths and graduate education options, develop mentorship relationships and build transferable skills.  

If you wish to learn more about how you can get involved in undergraduate research, please visit the Office of Undergraduate Research website. There you will find numerous resources, as well as ways to set up 1:1 advising appointments and drop in conversations.  

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