Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Guide
Why and How to Do Undergraduate Research
If you'd like a copy of this information, please see our Student-Faculty Collaborative Research brochure here.
"Research" implies any in-depth scholarly or creative project in which a student engages in the scholarly work of the discipline with a goal of creating new knowledge or perspectives. Watch this short video about UWEC undergraduate-raculty research. Every research project has the following basic steps:
- Ask a question, pose a problem, or envision a creative work
- Research how others have approached a similar problem, and develop your process
- Find the answer, or create the work
- Communicate the knowledge, or present the creative work
The UW-Eau Claire Advantage
One of the biggest advantages of attending UW-Eau Claire is the opportunity to do undergraduate research. UW-Eau Claire has been designated the Center of Excellence for Faculty and Undergraduate Student Research Collaboration by the UW System Board of Regents. Put plainly, this means we are the center of undergraduate research in Wisconsin. UW-Eau Claire provides opportunities to undergraduates that larger universities give primarily to their graduate students.
"This is the best-kept secret of UW-Eau Claire. It is what gives STEM students the advantage. We have most of the facilities of a large university and we actually get to use them at the undergraduate level. Institutions like UW-Madison have these facilities, but graduate students use them--not undergraduates. Undergraduate research at UW-Eau Claire changed my life."
"Undergraduate research was by FAR the most influential factor in post-school offers (grad school and jobs)." Watch this short video about what undergraduate research can do for you!
- Help You Get Into Graduate School
- Help You Get Your First Job
- Learn a Subject In-depth
- Learn Technical Skills
- Network and Make (Excellent and Life-changing) Connections
- Get to Know Your Professors
- Try on a Discipline
Help You Get into Graduate School
This is likely what most think of when they think of student researchers. By the time you graduate, you can list Research, Presentations, and (possibly)Publications on your curriculum vitae if you participate in undergraduate research. Your research experience will tell graduate schools that not only are you a competitive candidate for graduate school, but you are already doing graduate-level work. In a 2013 survey of alumni who participated in Undergraduate Research from 2007-2012, 32% are in graduate school, and 79% of them agree that their undergraduate research experience was a significant factor in their admission to a graduate program.
"Graduate school has been a breeze for me so far, and I owe much of that to my experiences at Eau Claire. I was prepared for all the challenges of graduate school due to my research experiences, classroom work, and mentoring from professors."
"Undergraduate research was by FAR the most influential factor in post-school offers (grad school and jobs). My undergraduate research assisted in me landing a full-time graduate assistantship at a prestigious university, which in return helped land my current job. Best experience and so glad that it was offered at UWEC. At the University I work at now, it's disappointing to see such little interest from the entire school on undergraduate research and experiences!"
Help You Get Your First Job
Undergraduate research will really make your resume stand out and will provide a great talking point during an interview. Even if your research experiences don't directly apply to a job, the basic skills of research (identify a questions or problem, design and implement solutions, tell others about it) transfers to almost any professional setting. In the 2013 survey of alumni who participated in Undergraduate Research from 2007-2012, 68% of them agree that their undergraduate research experience was helpful in securing employment.
"My research professor connected me to an alumnus whose company needed an intern. Became full time." "My experience gave me a leg up on other candidates applying for my job." "I believe it was impressive to employers, both in demonstrating my involvement and in displaying my capabilities." "It was another impressive accomplishment to speak about during my interview, I'm sure it played a part in showing the quality of the education I received and my ability to work and complete tasks independently." "I think every student should try and get into undergraduate research while in college. The research helps you gain a lot of skills you will not get from your classes. It also made my resume much stronger then the majority of other peoples that were applying for the same jobs I was."
You will learn a lot about a topic during any research experience – that is the goal of research after all.
"My time doing undergraduate research was an invaluable experience. I learned more from my hands on training with my advisor than I did during my course work. The course work only amplified my understanding of what we were doing in our research. If I could have stayed on after graduation I would have."
Learn Technical Skills
When you conduct research, you will also learn how to use software, techniques, and equipment that will serve you well beyond a single research project.
"Undergraduate research is essential in the field of science. Without experiences like these, students lack real world application of their education. I gained cultural and scientific knowledge on my trip to study MRSA and Chagas Disease in Ecuador. Additionally, I participated in lab work after the trip, giving me experience in that as well. These are the type of experiences that students remember and learn from. I am in medical school now and even last week I was able to apply what I had learned about MRSA (a bacteria) to studying antibiotics"
Network and Make (Excellent and Life-Changing) Connections
Survey results show that a significant number of undergraduate researchers made key (life-changing) connections during their research experience.
"My research experience was incredibly valuable. I discovered a field I would not have otherwise, developed a great relationship with my advisor, gained confidence in presenting research results, and had an overall positive experience." "I actually took part in 3 separate undergraduate research experiences, which were all in the field of natural sciences. I had an amazing experience that allowed me to grow academically and socially. I learned a lot about several career possibilities I hadn't even imagined existed. I still stay in contact with one of my professors, and he has been supportive of me throughout my research experience and even now, years after I have graduated. Everyone should take part in undergraduate research. I learned that while I actually do not like the research aspect of natural sciences, I really love working outdoors -- so much so that I haven't worked indoors since I first took part in undergraduate research over 5 years ago!"
Get to Know Your Professors
Talking to and working side-by-side with your professor will help you immensely and can result in a life-long collegial relationship, excellent recommendations, unexpected opportunities, and a better likelihood that your late paper might not get downgraded...
"My research professor connected me to an alumnus whose company needed an intern. Became full time." "The skills I learned during my 2+ years of working on these research projects made me a more attractive applicant to graduate schools, helped me succeed once I was accepted into graduate school, and helped me become good friends with the professors that supervised/advised me along the way. The undergraduate research aspect of UW-Eau Claire is an invaluable part of the university, and I would encourage every student to take advantage of this."
Try on a Discipline
Research will let you test the waters of a chosen career. If you have ever wanted to know if a major is for you, research is the best way to find out. You can learn what the daily life of a researcher in a discipline feels like. You get to 'try out' a discipline.
"The undergraduate research at UWEC is excellent. It provides first hand experience and develops a relationship with a mentor that helps to guide your career path. Being able to independently spend time on your own project was invaluable for helping me choose my career and advancing me further in science."
UW-Eau Claire helps fund student research around the country and even the world! Recent research projects have occurred in the following locations:
- Southwest China
- Galápagos, Ecuador
- Reno, Nevada
- Fresno, California
"I was given the opportunity to work on a variety of different projects ranging from the Rocky Mountains in western Colorado to streams in northern Wisconsin to labs on campus… The undergraduate research aspect of UW-Eau Claire is an invaluable part of the university, and I would encourage every student to take advantage of this."
Travel to Present!
In the 2012-2013 academic year, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (just one source of research funding) helped fund travel for more than 200 undergraduate researchers to attend conferences to present research results in the following locations:
Faculty in every department and students of every major at UW-Eau Claire are doing research: Art, French, Economics, Kinesiology, Latin American Studies, and Psychology to name a few. Students can and are doing original and impactful research in and out of their major.
If you are interested in doing research, you must;
- Take a proactive approach
- Follow through
- Be motivated
Step outside your 'box,' and take a plunge. Forge who you would like to become through undergraduate research. In addition to contributing knowledge to the profession and developing research skills, the skills and qualities you will develop are skills and qualities that every employer and graduate school are looking for. Listing undergraduate research on a resume or CV demonstrates that you have these skills and qualities.
- The early bird gets the worm. It is a cliché, but it is true.
- Perhaps more importantly, the early bird gets the next worm, too. One successful research project can lead to more opportunity!
- This point can't be stressed enough! Many students start researching their first year.
- So, start early!
There are two basic sources of research ideas: projects you propose to faculty and projects that faculty are already involved in. Most commonly, students work on faculty-driven research projects (73%). A faculty-driven research project may be an easier way to start, have a higher likelihood of being published, and might result in you discovering your dream field (or a field you want no part of). But, if you have an idea of your own, feel free to pursue it!
There Are Several Ways to Find a Research Project – for Best Results, Do All of Them:
- Talk to peers.
- Ask if any have done research. Consider talking to your RA or any juniors/seniors.
- Browse department pages which list faculty research activities.
- Talk to your advisor or the chair of your department.
- Ask about how to get started with research in your discipline. Ask about past or current projects.
- Talk to faculty or staff you like and ask about their research projects.
- Talk to faculty or staff who have research interests that match yours.
- Read academic and scholarly journals.
- Attend CERCA every spring.
- Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity is our undergraduate research presentation event. In 2013, 678 students presented 393 different research projects. It is the perfect opportunity to talk to other student researchers and faculty mentors
- Browse CERCA/Student Research Day Abstract Books from previous years.
- Talk to the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- ORSP can help direct you to people to talk to.
- Attend a Seminar Series. Many departments have their own or you can attend a Faculty Forum Presentation.
- Listen actively, ask questions, and make a good impression with a faculty member.
- Be a good student in class.
- Remember, whenever you go to class, you may be auditioning for a research project without knowing it. Instructors are on the lookout for students who work hard and show enthusiasm. A potential mentor may ask for your instructor's opinion of you.
Talk to a faculty or staff member you like or who has similar interests. Find out if they might be interested in doing collaborative research with you. Find out if they are doing any research you can help with. Or, if you have a topic in mind, share your own ideas.
You can browse department pages to find faculty and their research interests. Many faculty pages include areas of expertise -- there may be several faculty that overlap in any one field. Dive deeper into a faculty member's history. You can often find their CV with a Google search. You can also look up all UW-Eau Claire faculty publications in our annual Report on Publications. Look to see what articles they have published and perhaps read through one (a librarian will be more than happy to help you track down an article).
Make an Impression when Talking to Faculty or Staff
- If you are collaborating with a faculty member, they are investing in you– it takes time to mentor and bring a new student up-to-speed. Therefore, you will need to sell yourself to them. Faculty members are looking for someone who is smart, interested, committed, and professional.
- When talking to a faculty member, email or meet with them after one of their classes or open office hours and explain that you are interested in doing research. Ask if they might be interested in meeting in person to discuss further.
- Be sure to clearly explain who you are. Remind the faculty of any history you have with them – perhaps include (good) grades if you took a class with them – don't expect the faculty to remember you. If you don't have a history with the faculty member, clearly explain how you got their name.
- The faculty member's first impression of you will be important – so be sure that your email is well written and clear.
- Always be sure that you are receptive to faculty suggestions. Handing a suggestion or rejection well may make a good impression.
- Do a bit of research on the faculty member and their research interests, and let the faculty member know you have done your research. Faculty members want to work with a student who shows initiative.
- Show that you are interested. No professor will want to help an uninterested undergraduate – especially if you are asking him or her to invest time and resources in you. Keep in mind that a professor's research interests are likely their life's passion.
- Remember that faculty are busy but may be forgetful. Be patient enough to give faculty time to reply but be prepared to follow up.
- Don't misinterpret hesitation as a no. Be polite, but persistent!
- If a faculty member does turn you down, learn, adapt, and move on. Think of a 'no' as just another step. Ask for names of other faculty who may be looking for a student researcher.
- It is OK to say "no" to a research project, but do so tactfully.
Find journals in your field and area of interest. Skim a few recent issues to get an idea of what topics are 'hot' in your field. You might even find an article that identifies new avenues of research. Journals can be broad or highly specific. Journals also serve different audiences – most journals only publish work done by professors, some journals only publish work from their university, and some journals publish undergraduate work. You might want to look at the list of undergraduate journals here.
In most cases, funding is available to pay for resources and travel expenses you may need to do research. You may also apply to receive a stipend yourself!
ORSP has several programs to help fund undergraduate research to help fund undergraduate research:
- over the summer
- during the academic year
Work hard! Be sure to collaborate and communicate clearly. I bet you expected this section to be bigger!
Disseminating results is a key aspect of the research process. If you don't add your knowledge to the community, you haven't finished doing research.
The 2013 survey of alumni who participated in Undergraduate Research concluded that "45% of respondents had presented at a professional conference, 16% had co-written a paper that was published in an academic journal, and 42% reported winning a scholarship or award based on their research".
ORSP will help pay for travel fees to present at:
- Undergraduate Conferences such as
- Prestigious Conferences such as
- Professional Conferences.
- Co-present with faculty at professional conferences. Every year, ORSP helps subsidize travel (up to $700) across (and out of) the country for numerous students. Visit the Student Travel page for more information.
- Present on-campus at CERCA
- Over 700 students present their results of their research at CERCA on campus every spring.
- Present on-campus at department events such as:
Each year, UW-Eau Claire students publish scholarly articles in prestigious and international journals. You may either co-publish with your research mentor or attempt to publish independently in an undergraduate journal.
The McNair Program
This program assists eligible* students to prepare for and enter graduate programs leading to the Ph.D. Each year at UW-Eau Claire ten to twelve new undergraduate McNair Scholars embark upon two years of intensive mentoring, specialized curricular and co-curricular offerings, collaborative research, and paid internships, all of which groom these candidates for graduate school.
* Eligible participants include (a) academically talented first-generation students from low-income families OR (b) academically talented students from racial/ethnic groups underrepresented among American doctoral recipients. UW-Eau Claire McNair Scholars are chosen via faculty nomination.
All quotes in this module are taken from Investigation of Learning Outcomes and Undergraduate Research: Alumni Survey, ORSP. The report contains the (overwhelmingly positive) results of the 2013 survey of alumni who participated in Undergraduate Research from 2007-2012. View the complete report here.