The undergraduate research ecosystem on campus is incredibly diverse. Student can participate in research and creative activity through capstone projects, honors thesis, senior thesis, and independent study or as directed research. Other students participate in structured, faculty-led programs, internships and even as an employee on a UA research contract. As many as 60% of UA undergraduates participate in research and interest among students is growing.
The benefits of research can range from the obvious:
- increased understanding of the research process;
- finding an area of interest;
- developing critical thinking and problem solving skills;
to the less evident:
- learning to work in an interdisciplinary team environment;
- balancing collaborative and independent work;
- taking initiative;
- gaining confidence.
How to Connect with Faculty
One of the main challenges students face is connecting with faculty and research projects. My advice is to go to office hours and chat with faculty about their research and if they are taking on new students. You can also check Handshake, talk to your academic advisor, and even your instructors. Also, pay attention to departmental emails and announcements. Read faculty webpages to see what you like and browse this helpful website for undergraduate research for other ideas. Joining a research project leads to important mentoring relationships with your faculty mentor, as well as the rest of the team of lab managers, graduate students and other undergraduates.
There are persistent myths about undergraduate research that send the wrong message to students. For instance, research is not just a STEM activity; it takes place across all the disciplines and well beyond the science lab. Another myth is that only juniors and seniors engage in research. Not true! Many intrepid first and second year students contribute to research at UA.
A research project can be in your major, but many students find themselves working outside their department because it’s a chance to learn new skills, improve their knowledge of research methods and connect with valuable faculty mentors. The important thing is to search for a research project with a “Growth Mindset.” This means keeping an open mind, being willing to take risks, and not being discouraged by the word NO. It takes patience and perseverance to find a project, but the resulting experience is well worth the effort.
An Undergraduate Research Example: Fatima Molina
Fatima Molina came to UA from Winslow, AZ as a Navajo Gates Millennium Scholar. She graduated this past spring as a double major in Anthropology and Microbiology. She was an incredibly engaged and active student and her research experiences included working in a parasitology lab in the Czech Republic in summer 2016 through the Undergraduate Biology Research Program; engaging in research in summer 2015 through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Consortium (UROC) program; and working with the UA Native American Research & Training Center (NARTC) from 2014-2017. To read about Fatima’s experience and those of other talented UA students, click here.