Scientists at Computer

Peer Tips

How is Research in the Humanities, Social Sciences and Math different than in the Sciences?

Research in the sciences tends to be well-established and organized. Each Principal Investigator (PI) has their own lab and the graduate students/post-doctoral fellows in the lab work in coordinated efforts to gather data. Research in the humanities, social sciences and math tends to be more independent and freeform and up to the discretion of the individual researcher, not only in terms of how the research is conducted but also in terms of the end product.

To be honest, I only want to do this to enhance my resume.

Doing research can definitely be a resume builder. It shows commitment towards a good cause, intellectual curiosity, and excellent problem solving skills, all of which are qualities that are highly desirable. For graduate and medical schools, a paper under your belt in your undergraduate years can give you a head start on your thesis or dissertation.

On the flip side, people will be able to tell whether your research was really a core part of your undergraduate experience or something you did just so you could write it down on a piece of paper. Only you can ensure that your research experience will be something amazing that will shine on your resume.

What can undergraduate students do in a lab?

Depending on how experienced they are, an undergraduate student in training may be just observing or compiling data for the graduate student in charge. Students with more experience (usually upperclassmen) will sometimes have his/her own independent project.

I do the same thing in my lab every day. This isn't as exciting as I thought it would be.

It's commonly said that research is 99% failure, and only 1% success. Indeed because research is essentially systematic searching, it will involve repetition, something that you will need to persist through. There will be periods of time where you might be collecting data or doing menial work that doesn't seem to accomplish a lot. You might have to test a hundred solutions before you find one that works. When you do, however, the results can be life changing and well worth all the effort. Take things step by step, and you'll gradually see it bear fruit.

I don't see my PI a lot, or we just don't interact very well.

Could it be that you are looking for or needing something they cannot provide? Talk to your PI or professor about this, and be honest! Tell them explicitly what you were hoping to gain from the experience. If there is a mismatch in expectations, you might want to consider switching to another PI or professor. However, sometimes there is often just a natural barrier that you have to overcome. You need to gain the trust of the graduate students and your PI by coming regularly to the lab, committing to the things you promise to do, and show that you are interested in learning new protocols. This might take a while--don't lose heart, as there is potential for real growth by doing research.

I'm thinking about paid research. How do I go about doing this?

First of all University policy requires that all independent work done for academic credit cannot be paid.With that being said, paid research is very different from doing research for credit. When you do research for credit, what you do is mostly up to you--you can explore projects/topics that you are most interested in. When you are paid, however, you are obligated to do whatever is in the job description. This may have effects on your research experience--thus, consider carefully.

You can usually find paid research assistant positions on the Student Employment Services website (, along with other job offers. Most of the time, though, employers offering these positions are looking for applicants with quite a bit of prior research experience.