Why Undergraduate Research has been Beneficial to me

I have noticed undergraduate students get involved outside of the classroom to develop skills that the classroom setting cannot teach. This gives students the chance to develop professionally and make their resumes more diverse and appealing for the path they choose to pursue next, whether it be graduate school or a career in their field. Most universities offer a variety of ways to do this, including major specific organizations, honor societies, Greek life, and internships, but one option that is often not chosen by students is research [1].

How to get involved in research as an undergraduate student is different for every university and situation. Here at the University of Florida, the Center for Undergraduate Research has a database of current research opportunities that students can use to find projects that interests them looking for help [2]. Specific colleges might have their own database of ongoing projects that students can look up. When in doubt, students can always ask their professors if they have any ongoing projects that they need help with.

I fell into research during my second year here at the University of Florida. UF prides itself in being very active in and supporting of research. With over 10,000 active projects and receiving $838 million in research awards, it is safe to say that research is very important here [3]. However, when I first started school here, I wasn’t interested. One day, my scholarship foundation sent out an email stating that the Intelligent Natural Interaction Technology (INIT) Lab was looking for CISE undergraduate students to work as undergraduate research assistants. While I did not think I was interested in research, I was looking for ways to become more involved at UF because I was just about to start my second year of college and had yet to find involvement opportunities that were interesting to me. Because of this, I decided to read over the website and learned that the INIT Lab focuses on researching how users prefer to interact with technology and how to build better algorithms that can understand these preferred interactions. It was different than what I expected it to be and I was intrigued by this opportunity so I decided to apply. After a few interviews, I landed the job and words cannot express how grateful I am for this experience.

Last October marked a year of working in the INIT Lab, and while there have been many ups, like giving a successful presentation to the entire lab, and downs, such as working months longer on analysis than expected, in my experience in research, overall, I have been changed for the better and I would not trade this experience for the world. My hope with this post is to explain why being involved in research as an undergrad is beneficial for students, drawing directly from my experience here.

One way research has benefited me is that it has made me better at working with a team of people. When you work on the same project over a long period of time with the same people, you pick up skills that benefit the project. Everyone has their own schedules outside of the project and you learn to be conscious of others’ time. To keep the overall project on time, I learned to have self-motivation to finish my individual work earlier so others who rely on my work can do their part. I learned that teamwork is more than working well with others. It is also about making yourself work more efficiently.

Undergraduate research has also helped me become more confident. In research, it is very important to communicate and brainstorm different ideas to solve problems. In the INIT lab, undergraduate students are included as a part of this process and I have over time gained confidence to spitball my own ideas. Even when I feel my proposed solution will not work, I know that explaining my idea could prompt a better solution from someone else. In my experience here, I have gained confidence immensely from not only this aspect of the research process but also from giving presentations or leading meetings. I would still not consider myself a confident person, but I feel I have increased in confidence immensely over the last year from working in the lab.

By far the most beneficial part of being involved in undergraduate research that I have found is the community aspect. As you see and interact with the same people every week, you learn a lot about each other’s life. You might work on a different project than they do, but you know that they have been sick for the past week and you hope that they get better soon. You know that they are stressed about a paper being due soon and you wish them luck. You learn that they finally got their driver’s license and you feel happy for them. You know that if you need to, you can lean on this group of people and that you have become a part of their tight-knit family. As a third-year computer engineering major, I have found my place in the world of research and I hope others can too.

REFERENCES

  1. Wilson, A. (2012). Using the National Survey of Student Engagement to measure undergraduate research participation. Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly, 32(3), 9-15.
  2. Research Opportunities. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://cur.aa.ufl.edu/research-opportunities/
  3. A new vision for a better state. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ufl.edu/research/

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