NSights Blog

The undergraduate research advantage: Skills, connections and fun

There are more undergraduate research opportunities than ever before; here's how to get involved

I often tell students at orientation and class presentations that research is the best skill to build along with taking undergraduate courses at the University of Nevada, Reno. Why? Research is an active practice – a puzzle that requires you to use academic training and collaborate to discover something new. The outcome isn’t set, whereas in class you know the right steps to take to achieve success (if you read your syllabus). There is nothing like working on a team to discover something new. Research comes alive in practice like this, and it is an experience we at the University want every undergraduate student to have during their time with us.

Research is also about finding your professional self. Your time as an undergraduate is when you should actively explore the offerings available. Participating in research projects can indicate if you like the work in an area or not – and either insight is valuable. For instance, as an undergraduate I thought about going to law school because of my love of government and law. I took a law class and, while I did well, it wasn’t quite the right fit. Following that experience, I shifted my focused to public administration and policy which was a much better fit.

Real Skills, Real Fast

There is much to learn from working on a research project beyond the research itself. Here are four professional skillsets developed through research experience:

  • Time management – Balancing school, work and life obligations takes practice, but is needed to maintain a healthy life balance and meet your goals in each area of your life.
  • Project Management – You will learn how to plan out a research project, the time and resources needed to complete a step, and how to document advances and prepare final deliverables.
  • Communication – Research often requires working on a team with people at all different experience levels. Learning how to effectively communicate is essential, especially if you get stuck or something goes awry. You learn to crisply explain the main ideas of your research and that of your faculty member to people of vastly different training and skill sets.
  • Financial Management – Some research opportunities, like those through Undergraduate Research, are paid. You will learn how to submit billable hours, pace your work to maximize the stipend, and learn about managing expenses involved in your area of research.

Research Designed for Freshmen and Sophomores

It’s great to start finding connections and learning research skills early. Luckily, there are more research opportunities at the University than ever. All students are encouraged to stop by my office so I can help find you the right opportunity that meets your needs and fits your interests. You don’t need any prior experience, only a drive and passion for knowledge.

One program offered through Undergraduate Research is the Pack Research Experience Program (PREP), designed specifically for freshmen and sophomores to provide the opportunity to work on a faculty member’s research project. This year, with the support of Mridul Gautam, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation, we have doubled our ability to support students through PREP.

Twenty-three faculty mentors have proposed projects with topics spanning the breadth of the university’s disciplines, ranging from STEM to the humanities and social sciences. Dr. Won-Gyu Choi has a project in biochemistry and molecular biology, focusing on editing genes to create heat-tolerant plants. Dr. Ignacio Montoya has a passion project in linguistics to build a dictionary of the endangered Pyramid Lake dialect of the native Northern Paiute. You can work with University Libraries and Teresa Schultz to understand how to best meet the needs of first-generation students. The lineup of opportunities is diverse enough for any student, no matter your major.

Information for our PREP program can be found on our website.

Get started!

Our Undergraduate Research Fall Symposium took place over Zoom on October 2 and, once again, it demonstrated what students can accomplish with the support of research awards. Research awards not only give you valuable experience that will help give you an edge after your undergraduate career, but we also pay $12 per hour so you don’t have to choose between working and researching. Here are the upcoming application deadlines for all our awards to support projects in the Spring 2021 semester:

  • Honors Undergraduate Research Award (HURA) – October 12
  • Pack Research Experience Program (PREP) – October 19
  • Community-Based Research Award – October 26
  • Nevada Undergraduate Research Award (NURA) – November 9

I hold weekly office hours via Zoom every Wednesday from 2-3 p.m. or contact me by email at tanyak@unr.edu. Reach out early and often, and I will help you get started in research!

Tanya Kelley photograph
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