Undergraduate Research Experience
Research Experiences (RE) are really just a special type of internship for science and mathematics students. Two important elements distinguish an RE from a short-term job or community service. First, you bring an intentional “learning plan” to the experience. You not only plan to learn, but you have a plan for evaluating what you learned and how. Second, you are allowed to participate in the exciting research work of a professional research facility, and usually are responsible for conducting your own independent research.
If you are considering graduate school, you need to get research experience. Graduate school is about you conducting your own independent research—not about classes. An undergraduate research experience can help you either confirm your decision to continue your studies, or make a decision to choose a different path. You can make an informed decision about whether you are interested in graduate school, or a particular career—a good thing to know before you graduate!
Employers Love Research Experience
An additional reason to find a research experience is that employers actively seek students with career-related work experience. Your odds of getting a job in today’s competitive marketplace are much greater if you have research experience or an internship.
Finding Research Experiences
Unfortunately, there is no one single place to find a research experience. Many different resources exist at MSU, however, you can find more experiences with a little extra work. All MSU faculty have their research interests posted on their departmental websites. Find someone whose interests are in a field you want to learn more about, and contact them to see if they have any openings.
Caution: Don’t just show up and say “Hi, I want to do research.” Taking on an undergraduate involves a lot of work for the professor. You need to convince them that it’s worth while for them to work with you. If you go in with a specific plan for what you want to study, how their research interests you, how you want to study it, and what you want to get from the project, you’re much more likely to convince the professor that you’re serious and that taking you on would be a good idea.
Start Looking Now
It’s never too early to gain “hands-on” experience. As soon as you identify what sort of career path you are interested in, start keeping an eye out for research experiences.
It’s important to plan ahead. Typically, for summer research, the deadlines are in November and December. Some of the most popular programs have very strict rules – they will not accept late applications, and you must fill out certain forms properly. Read the instructions carefully.
Your academic department determines the requirements for receiving academic credit. Some departments have special courses you can register for if you are doing research on campus. Remember, though–just because something is called a “research experience” doesn’t mean you will get credit through MSU for the experience. You must work with your department.
Some research experiences will give you academic credit at other institutions. Some research experiences don’t count for credit at all—but will look wonderful on your resume and help you determine your future career path.
Research experiences can be part-time or full-time, paid or unpaid. They can last from a month to a year. Co-ops or research experiences at federal labs often last longer than typical summer research experiences. The potential long-term career advancement of these positions can easily outweigh the time cost of missing a semester of class. CNS offers scholarships for students participating in undergraduate research.
Finding an Undergraduate Research Experience
Review the Undergraduate Research section for details and opportunities.
Sites regularly posting research experiences:
- NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program (REU)
- Summer Internship program in Biomedical Science (National Institue of Health)
- Government Lab Research Programs
- Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) Website. (UC, Irvine)
- MSU Venture – A database of undergraduate research opportunities at MSU
- Handshake (formerly MySpartan Career)
- UNCF Scholarships