Many students believe that essays they have to write and lectures they have to attend as a part of their curriculum are more than enough to occupy them for the years they spend in college. If you add personal responsibilities, part-time jobs, and extracurricular activities, you indeed get a hefty workload that can be hard to handle. However, many colleges offer their students an opportunity to take part in research – either assisting one or more faculty members with their work or pursuing an independent research project of their own. While at a glance it may look like an unnecessary hassle you should avoid committing to when you already have so much piled onto your plate, participating in college research has numerous advantages. For one, it is an excellent chance to take part in real academic work and probably kickstart your own future career in research. In addition, you can build stronger ties with faculty members, which can come in handy later on, both during your time in college and after you graduate. Finally, this way you get invaluable experience that is simply on another level compared to other ways of learning.
However, starting in research may look like an insurmountable task for somebody who has never done anything of this kind. So, how can you arrange it for yourself?
1. Decide What Kind of Project You Want to Pursue
In the beginning, you should make an important decision. What do you want to do? Are you ready to work on a research paper of your own? Or perhaps you are more inclined to assist someone else with his/her research project? There is no universally right answer. Many students are not interested in writing research papers on their own topics and use research as an opportunity to build relationships with faculty members. Others have interesting ideas they want to work on independently, albeit under the faculty’s guidance. Still, others do both: usually helping some professor during their earlier years in college and moving on to independent research later on.
2. Check Available Research Programs in Advance
You cannot just decide to take part in a research project and get accepted. In most cases, you have to submit a request well in advance. If you want to participate in a summer program, you usually have to apply for it during the autumn or winter term. Therefore, you should plan ahead and check programs offered by different departments and centers as early as possible. In addition to summer programs, most colleges carry out structured research projects at other times of the year – just keep an eye out for them, and you will find what you need.
3. Know Where to Look for Opportunities
Faculty members looking for research assistants tend to advertise using departmental mailing lists, academic newsletters, and even social media. Ask your Student Services officer or another official who performs similar functions in your college where you can obtain such information. If necessary, ask if it is possible to add you to the relevant mailing lists and other means of communication.
4. Talk to a Professor You Know
The easiest way to start in research is to consult a professor who already knows you. Don’t reach out by directly asking about an open assistant position. It is usually better to pay the professor in question a visit during his/her office hours and ask for advice on how to get started in research. With any luck, you will be offered a position, but even if the professor is not looking for assistants right now, you are likely to get a few useful tips. Alternatively, the professor can know of another faculty member who can help you.
5. Look for a Professor Working on a Problem That Interests You
If you don’t know any faculty members who work in the field you are interested in, you will have to look for somebody who does. Try department webpages and other college-related online resources. For example, faculty profiles can contain a lot of useful information. Contact a Student Services office and ask to help you identify faculty members whose research may interest you.
6. Discuss the Topic of Your Paper with the Professor
Before you do any actual work, make sure you thoroughly discuss the topic of your paper with the professor you want to work with. It is not a simple essay – a research paper takes a lot of time and effort to prepare for and produce. Even an experienced writer who can truthfully say, “I write my papers on my own” can be hard-pressed to write a good paper based on incomplete or incorrectly carried out research or on a poorly defined topic. Faculty members have seen dozens if not hundreds of research projects and can point out potential mistakes before you make any of them.
7. Look for Help if Necessary
While nobody is going to do the actual research for you, there are ways to ease your burden a little bit if you find yourself overwhelmed. If you have trouble writing up the results of your work and bringing together different parts of your studies, it may be a good idea to use professional writing services. Many of them are relatively cheap, and the writers working for them are usually well used to the work of this kind. Unlike you, they produced dozens, possibly hundreds of research papers throughout their career, and know exactly how it is supposed to be done.
Doing research, whether you carry out your personal project or participate in the work of a faculty member, is hard and time-consuming but also fascinating and highly rewarding work. Thoroughly prepare for it, follow our suggestions, and you will reap many rewards as a result. From better relationships with faculty members to real research experience that can come in useful in your future career, participating and carrying out such projects can become one of the highlights of your college experience, not to be compared to anything else!