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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Becoming an undergraduate researcher

Researching as an undergraduate can provide opportunities for those pursuing post-graduate study and experience working in a specific field. Using the Undergraduate Research Center and the help of a member of the faculty, it is possible to start research now, earn units and even apply for a research grant.

UC Davis is a research university that facilitates interaction between undergraduate students and researchers. With over 100 different majors offered at UC Davis, students could research as a design major planning a new fashion line or as a geology major studying the Mars landing sites.

Tammy Hoyer, senior program manager of the Undergraduate Research Center, said the first step for students interested in conducting research is to contact an adviseor at the center.

“A friendly adviseor will show the students how to present ththemselves self to the faculty, such as what to say or what not to say in securing a research position,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer said the majority of students seek out specific professors and ask to join their research team. The center also sends out an e-mail listserv for faculty who approach the research center looking for research assistants from a specific major. Rima Kalush, a senior history and political science double-major, is conducting independent research as part of her history honors thesis program. She is researching the independence of the Libyan state and the continuity of politics.

“I wanted to counter the idea that [Libya] was a nation created by foreign powers and that it actually has a rich history,” Kalush said.

Kalush recommended students interested in beginning research to contact their major’s department. For those in the social sciences, she advised students to keep track of sources and use the library and university resources.

“The library is the best resource ever, especially all the online data resources,” Kalush said.

Kevin Laugero, a United States Department of Agriculture’s Western Human Nutrition Research Center (WHNRC) scientist, is currently working in the WHNRC lab on the effects of emotionality and overeating behaviors and how the relationship affects stress responses and body weight.

Laugero said recruiting undergraduate interns is often a reciprocal process, with both the WHNRC seeking UC Davis students, and students coming to the center for more information.

“We post advertisements and go to the internship center on campus. We get hundreds of applicants. [The internship center] is a tremendous resource,” he said.

Students can apply their textbook and classroom study to research. Laugero also said, although it is physically and mentally demanding, researchers feel satisfaction after seeing results from their research.

“In my experience, I think UC Davis is one of the top universities that gets students involved in real live research,” Laugero said.

On April 29 and 30, the Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Conference at UC Davis will feature 353 students, including Kalush, presenting their research in a formal setting.

“It’s a way for students to take their research to the next level and interact with faculty and staff,” Hoyer said.

UC Davis aids researching undergraduates by offering units for independent study and grants. The President’s Undergraduate Fellowship is a grant open for all majors, with up to $2,000 compensation for direct project costs. Hoyer suggests visiting the Undergraduate Research Center’s web site for more information on available grants.

Research at a private or governmental institution, such as the WHNRC, focuses all their resources for one specific problem, leaving little freedom for exploration.

“In the research university, our goal is to pass on passion and enthusiasm for research to the next generation of researchers,” Hoyer said.

For students more interested in being studied as a clinical trial subject, Laugero suggests looking at posted advertisements or visiting the WNHRC web site. The WNHRC currently has many open studies, including one concerning the effects of breakfast and body weight.

For social science studies, such as psychology and sociology, professors often offer extra credit or course credit for being a subject in a research study.

Kalush and Laugero said pursuing research could push or change career paths.

“If you plan on pursuing any post-grad school, it’s important to get the experience [doing research] and try it out to see if that’s what you want to do,” Kalush said.

GRACE BENEFIELD can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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