Undergrad Research: What Is It?
In case you didn’t know, UC Irvine classifies itself as a public research university. You might be wondering, what the heck does that even mean? And maybe, why is that at all relevant to me?
Basically what it means is that all the faculty at UCI partake in research. In whatever fields they’re in, your professors are not only teaching classes but they’re actively expanding the subjects that they’re teaching with that research. What this also means is that students can work with professors and partake in research too!
Research isn’t required, meaning that if you don’t want to, you don’t have to do it. Research, however, is a really fantastic opportunity for any student to get involved in. Personally, I think that undergraduate research can act as a litmus test in understanding what you really want to do; there’s no better way to see if you want to work in a lab than actually working in one.
Some of my non-STEM pals might be wondering, well what about us? I had that question too as a freshman. I was initially disheartened because I thought that getting involved in research was really cool, but it seemed like Humanities majors wouldn’t be able to-- there’s no set laboratory for History majors or English majors. Luckily though, I was proven wrong. In my junior and senior year, I was a part of the Humanities Honors Program where I was able to produce a senior thesis.
As part of my thesis, I acquired an undergraduate research grant to be able to go to Korea and look at some of the contemporary art there to help facilitate my research. I had a professor that was my faculty advisor, and frequently hit the library up to find resources to help support my thesis. While this is still very different from looking at cells in a laboratory, it is still research nonetheless! Different fields have different methodologies and very different sets of unique challenges. Any research, however, can be a rewarding experience.
That being said, there really aren’t too many limits to what you can research and what you can do with it. If you have a class that you really enjoy or a professor you really admire, it’s worth it to ask them how you can get involved in their research or if they can advise you in your own independent research.
Every year, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program helps give students grants to complete their research. They also host the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, where students come together and present their hard work. I was lucky enough to participate my senior year, and it was a wonderful experience. Observing the wide variety of research that other students undertook gave me such a sense of respect and admiration for my peers. I really felt I was in a room full of students who were going to make a difference in the world. The truth is that UCI has many great opportunities for undergraduate researchers, and it’s up to each student to take on their agency to seek avenues for research in their field.