What are the benefits of doing undergraduate research?
The primary outcome of engaging in undergraduate research is that it enables you to acquire an in-depth understanding of the knowledge-making process and to better understand the world. It is a form of exploration that compels the application of knowledge outside of the classroom and often results in the shifting of ideas about that knowledge and the way it functions in the world. You might also think of it as a form of apprenticing – learning the tools of trade, as it were, and how those contribute and expand your experience as a scholar. There are a number of other benefits and reasons that College students pursue undergraduate research, including:
- Engaging more deeply with your subject;
- Learning relevant methodological skills and approaches to your discipline;
- Building relationships with faculty;
- Pursuing primary and secondary research for a thesis;
- Preparing for graduate school and national scholarships and fellowships;
- Demonstrating intellectual fitness and preparedness for future graduate schools, national funding bodies, and employers;
- Advancing your scholarship productively during the academic year and/or the summer.
The importance of research mentorship
While CCRF can help you navigate the undergraduate research opportunities and resources available to you at UChicago, the most critical component of the process involves building relationships with faculty mentors.
Why research mentor relationships are so important
Faculty members have years experience conducting their own research as well as guiding undergraduates in pursuing research and other opportunities. As a result, they are ideally-placed to help guide your research activities - whether you are working with them on a portion of their research, pursuing your own project within a larger faculty member or lab's work, or pursuing your own independent research with the guidance of faculty. They are also positioned as scholars to most effectively mentor you throughout the research project and helping you integrate that learning into your broader intellectual growth.
How to find faculty members
You can learn about faculty members through classes, websites (personal, department, or lab/research center websites), research publications, news stories (e.g. through the UChicago main news website or newsletters of research centers), campus talks/lectures, RSO activities, etc. You can also make an appointment with CCRF: Research advisors who can help guide your search.
How to connect with faculty and cultivate a mentoring relationship
Once you have found a faculty member whose interests align with yours, reach out to them during office hours or schedule an appointment. (Note: to be effective, emails should have a short, descriptive subject, be professional (with proper capitalization, grammar, formal tone, addressed by proper salutation and last name, etc.), and -- briefly, in 1-2 short paragraphs -- explain who you are and why you want to connect with them.) Once you have met with the faculty member, continue to establish regular contact, even if you are not taking their class, by visiting them during office hours or participating in department events where you may have the chance to connect in a less formal way.
Don't be intimidated! Most faculty members enjoy getting to know students and helping them to explore their field. They also don't "teach" their research and often welcome the opportunity to talk at length about their own scholarly activities.That said, remember that supporting undergraduate research is not a built-in expectation of faculty at UChicago. You are not "entitled" to a research experience simply by virtue of being a College student. This is an effort that requires due dilligance, bone fide curiosity, and evidence in your exchange with faculty that you are interested in a genuine, meaningful research experience with them.
Consult more resources available here on how to effectively reach out to faculty with whom you'd like to do research.