What is undergrad research?

What is undergraduate research?

According to the OECD's Frascati Manual, research is "creative and systematic work undertaken in order to increase the stock of knowledge ... and to devise new applications of available knowledge". Research generally involves gathering and analyzing information about a topic of interest, in order to answer some as-yet unanswered question. A line of inquiry to answer a question (or set of related questions) is generally called a project. Research can be experimental, computational, or theoretical, or use a combination of methods.

Undergraduate research is when undergraduate students get involved with a laboratory to do research. Sometimes this takes the form of an independent project led by the student - but often, especially at the beginning, the undergraduate is mentored by a graduate student or postdoc in the lab and assists with a project the graduate student or postdoc is already working on.

The topic of your undergraduate research isn't necessarily representative of what you'll do for the rest of your career - rather, it's an opportunity to build transferable skills, start building up work experience for applying to jobs or grad school, and decide if you like a given field or type of research.

If you're interested in research in the College of Chemistry (CoC), consider taking CHEM 96, Introduction to Research and Study in the College of Chemistry. This class is an introduction to research in the CoC for sophomores and new transfer students and aims to expose students to the available research topics and fields within the CoC.

Glossary of common research terms

  • Experimental research: involves physical experiments and uses physical materials to answer the research question.

  • Computational research: involves developing models and simulations on a computer to gain information and answer the research question. Typically relies heavily on coding.

  • Theoretical research: explores, formulates, and analyzes theories to answer the research question. This research is typically very mathematical and often combines pencil and paper derivations with computational work.

  • Principal investigator (PI): the person in charge of the lab. Generally a professor, and will lead the lab in general research direction, hiring, and getting funding.

  • Postdoc: researcher who has already received a PhD. Generally works more independently in preparation to lead their own lab after their postdoc experience.

  • Group meeting: regular meetings to discuss the group's progress and results, share updates, and help one another with troubleshooting. Depending on the group, there may be food. Group meetings also provide an opportunity to learn more about other directions of the group's research.

  • Journal club: a meeting to discuss papers. Often the whole group will read a paper and discuss it in detail, including main takeaways, successes, criticisms, and parts that may be relevant for the group's own work.

  • Literature review: the task of reading through published work on a given topic. Generally happens when you get into a topic you don't know a lot about yet.