Research experience is not only vital for a competitive resume, but also for developing curiosity as well as problem-solving abilities for students.
While many students aim for the perfect 4.0 GPA, most do not consider getting involved in research with their professors or even start their own.
There are numerous benefits of attaining research experience because it can serve as a proof of competence to future employers.
It also helps the students to think critically, challenge existing beliefs, balance collaborative and individual work and identify their areas of interest.
Abena Adaboh, a senior biomedical sciences major from Kumasi, Ghana, has been assisting Glenn M. Cohen, professor and divisional chair of biology, since fall 2015 with his research on protein structure of hair fibers.
She believes research has made her more observant and disciplined, as she has to manage three to four hours a week to work on it.
“It (research) has given me an eye for details,” Adaboh said. “We literally work at the microscopic level 99 percent of the time. I am also more disciplined in the sense that I know how and when to record my data.
“I am also managing my time better because I know I have to set specific times aside to work in the lab and other times just to check on my experiment to make sure they are proceeding in the right direction.”
Similarly, Awuku Mavis Dede, a freshman nursing major from Koforidua, Ghana, said she got into research in chemistry with Suzanne Farver Lukjan, lecturer in the department of chemistry and physics, despite her differing major.
She said that she considers herself quite an anomaly since she is a nursing major and also a freshman assisting a chemistry professor with her research.
“Although she (Lukjan) preferred other majors, she was confident in my ability to understand what will go on with little more expectation,” Dede said.
She added that research is not restricted to specific majors and certainly does not have to go hand-in-hand with one’s major.
“Most people expect biochemistry or pre-med majors when they ask me about my major,” Dede said. “I sometimes get lost in those tracks, but I believe that the most important thing I have learned so far is to look beyond the familiar. It does not necessarily have to follow a trend.”
Exposure to research at the undergraduate level helps students explore the endless possibilities in any given career field.
For a student considering research as a career path, this kind of exposure is invaluable. Some students manage to become full-time researchers, adjunct faculty and research advisers in their own school.
Angana Mukherjee, an aspiring oncologist from Kolkata, India, for instance, is now a research assistant as well as an adjunct faculty member in the department of biological and environmental science. She has been researching the role of a transcription factor in prostate cancer bone metastasis since August 2015.
Besides her research, she also teaches laboratory classes for genetics, anatomy and physiology, and cell biology, along with mentoring her laboratory assistants.
She believes it was solely hard work and determination that enabled her to finish two published abstracts in a peer-reviewed journal while her three other papers were still ongoing. However, she agrees the overwhelming responsibilities and workload make it hard for her to maintain an active social life.
“My life as a student was very different from other students of my batch because my focus was on completion of my masters and research,” Mukherjee said. “A lot of students take two to three years just to complete their thesis and graduate, but my aim was to complete my research in a year, which I did.”
On giving students some advice on gaining research experience, she suggested doing it out of passion rather than for a letter of recommendation.
“Don’t get involved in research just for the sake of having it on your resume,” Mukherjee said. “If you are jumping into research, you have to be passionate about it.”
Regardless of major or classification, it seems the path to gaining research experience is by trying to learn more about what you are already passionate about.