Below you will find answers to questions that students often ask about undergraduate research at Michigan State. If you don't see your question below, please email us and we'll try our best to answer it.
What is undergraduate research and creative activity?
Broadly defined, undergraduate research includes scholarly, creative, and artistic activities that lead to new knowledge, improve problem solving capabilities, offer original or historical theory and interpretation, and/or produce art or creative performances. A collaborative effort between students and their research mentors, undergraduate research and creative activities are interactive, discovery-based experiences that teach and engage students about the numerous components involved in the research and creative process. Research and creative opportunities occur in and outside of the formal curriculum.
Students’ individual abilities, time commitment, and length of involvement will affect their productivity as undergraduate researchers. Undergraduate students may not engage in a research or creative opportunity long enough to make an original contribution to a discipline. However, if students learn and work on essential components of the research or creative process (e.g., review literature and identify knowledge gaps, design hypotheses and experiments, collect and analyze data), we posit that they begin to more deeply engage in an academic discipline by learning about research or creative methods, practicing advanced critical thinking, and participating in key steps of the research and/or creative continuum.
Students may work on a smaller portion of a faculty member's research or conduct their own research under the guidance of a faculty member. It's essential that undergraduate researchers have a mentor--whether it's a faculty member, graduate student, or another staff member. You need someone to help guide you through the various steps and phases of research and creative activity.
How do I get involved with a research project on campus?
There are several ways to become involved with research. You can talk to a faculty member who teaches a class that you enjoy. Make an appointment to discuss his/her research and inquire if there is an opportunity for you to assist. Another option is to visit Handshake, Michigan State’s career development website to browse or search for research opportunities. Finally, academic advisors are outstanding resources who are often familiar with faculty who regularly work with undergraduate researchers.
I’m interested in a certain topic, but can’t find it on Handshake (MSU’s career development website). What can I do?
There are a couple of options. Talk with a faculty member in a class that you enjoyed and would be interested in researching that subject more in-depth. Faculty often are excited to hear about your interests and can share research opportunities they or their faculty colleagues may have now or in the future. You can also search MSU Scholars, a website that highlights the publications of MSU researchers. Use the search feature in the upper right corner to search by topic - enter something that interests you and see who has published work about it.
How do I approach a faculty member?
Remember, faculty members are humans, too. You shouldn’t be intimidated by them, but you need to do your homework ahead of time. Before you meet to discuss research possibilities, consider the following suggestions:
- What did you enjoy about the class that the faculty member taught? What aspects of the subject are you interested in learning more about?
- Try to find out about the faculty’s member research agenda. Check to see if they have a website that discusses their research and try to learn about the topic.
- Find a journal article that that faculty member has written and read it. You might not understand everything, but it will provide a better idea of what the faculty member has studied. Plus, it shows that you have taken some initiative and are interested in research.
- Analyze your own strengths and areas you want to gain experience in. Be prepared to explain why you would be an ideal research assistant and what you can contribute and learn from the experience.
- Now, you are ready to set up a meeting.
When is the best time to get involved in a research project?
That answer varies based on your previous experience, academic ability, and coursework. Some students find opportunities as soon as they enter college, while others need a year or two to figure out their major or interest area and develop the skills necessary to conduct research. It’s never too early to begin looking. Initially, you may not be qualified for a position, but you can learn about the qualifications needed so you can prepare yourself for a research experience in the future.
How much time is involved?
The time commitment depends on a lot of different factors—your course load, class schedule, and your role in the research. During the academic year, some students may spend up to 10 hours a week on a project. If a student is receiving academic credit for participating, she/he may need to dedicate more time for the research. Summer research often requires more time.
Can I get paid for doing research?
Yes and no. Many research positions provide a stipend (or salary), other research opportunities are given academic credit (e.g., part of class, independent study), and some are done on a volunteer basis. For some positions, you may need to volunteer for a semester and then you might get paid in subsequent semesters if you demonstrate the necessary dedication and abilities.
What is UURAF?
UURAF is short for University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum. It’s an opportunity for undergraduate students to showcase their original research and creative activity. Students present a poster and/or give oral presentations in a conference setting and receive feedback from faculty judges. Monetary awards are given to students in each category. In 2014, 657 Michigan State undergraduates participated in UURAF. If you're not a presenter, consider stopping by and just walking through the different poster rooms. You'll be amazed at what your peers are studying and learning.