On Feb. 9, Melissa Berkey, the assistant director of the University of Connecticut office of undergraduate research, hosted a webinar regarding undergraduate research. The online workshop covered topics such as the benefits of participating in undergraduate research, finding and contacting faculty members conducting research relevant to your interests, learning about opportunities, as well as general tips on successfully participating in research.
Research is an amazing way to further explore your areas of interest and apply knowledge gained in lectures.
“It’s one thing to read theory in the classroom, but getting hands-on experience is extremely valuable and gives you a completely new understanding of what you’re studying,” said co-host Michelle Antony, an eighth-semester molecular and cellular biology and community health major.
Research also allows you to further explore a topic of interest, build and improve relevant skills, consider different career or education paths and develop valuable connections with peers and professors.
Finding faculty and professors that conduct research can be hard if you’ve yet to take a course addressing your interests specifically. UConn’s database Lincus can be very useful in finding faculty whose work aligns with different areas of interest. It is also beneficial to review UConn Today and other UConn media outlets to always know about potential new opportunities happening at the university.
The search for opportunities can be reactive or proactive. Reactive implies a given opportunity that a student is notified about and offered, while proactive means you need to put in effort to discover those opportunities yourself. To find a good fit and participate in research that truly interests you, proactive search must be your main focus. Reach out to faculty and develop connections and relationships with as many professors and researchers as possible.
While reaching out to established researchers and professors can seem terrifying, it remains the best way to find research opportunities. It is important to remember that professors choose to work at a university because they enjoy working with students and are always willing to help.
A piece of helpful advice from the webinar was picking a favorite professor or course each semester, or even reaching out to professors you’ve never had before if their area of research corresponds with your interests. Reaching out through email is the best option; however, professors tend to have busy schedules, so don’t take it personally if they don’t respond right away.
If you are truly interested in their research, send a follow up email one to two weeks after. In your email, it’s best to ask for a one-on-one meeting. Make sure to be well-prepared and do outside research regarding the professor’s background to express your interest and ask valuable questions.
“Participating in research also helps to discover your specific interest and … to find your best fitting career path while still in college instead of changing your mind and going back to school for another degree later,” said co-host Stephanie Schofield, an eighth-semester molecular and cellular biology major with a minor in psychological sciences.
The webinar encouraged students to go beyond their major. Knowledge in one discipline can be applied to another. Asking different professors questions regarding what made them go into their field and how they got interested in it can be helpful in sorting out your own interests and navigating career paths and further education.