Undergraduate Research: Why You Should Get Involved

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Tyler Martin

by Tyler Martin, Mechanical Engineering '21

As soon as you start your college career, you are bound to see campus announcements and flyers about undergraduate research grants and symposiums every semester. It’s one of those programs that universities love to promote, but I have found that many engineering majors don’t see a reason to get involved. Of course, if you want to go to graduate school research is a must, but why should you spend time researching when there are hundreds of well-paying Internships and Co-ops waiting for your application? But, as many students have come to find out, it can be really hard to land a position. Even if you practice all of the tips Luke offered in his blog post, you might struggle to get an interview, let alone an offer. So, what can you do to help grow your knowledge of engineering, develop important career skills, and increase your chances of getting a position? Undergraduate Research!

There are plenty of reasons why you should consider undergraduate research, but for now I’ll just offer the top three benefits of research that I have found during my research journey

Explore New Career Directions
One of the most interesting parts about undergraduate research is that you will be working under a professor who is an industry expert in their field. This means that you’ll get one on one guidance on the knowledge and techniques of whatever topic you get to work on. For example, the Mechanical Engineering department at Lamar currently has eight professors with specializations in topics like Solid Mechanics, Materials Science, Computational Fluid Dynamics, Surface Engineering, Turbine and Combustion Efficiency, and Multi-Scale & Multi-Physics Modeling and Characterization. All of these topics are in demand and directly applicable to multiple industries. This means that getting research experience in these topics could help kick-start a career in a field that you may not have even known existed a few years ago.

Develop Important Transferable Resume Skills
Undergraduate research requires a lot of skills that employers look for in a potential employee. Obviously, you can develop industry and topic-specific skills based on what you’re researching and what equipment you will use, but you will also develop major soft skills. Things like self-direction, problem-solving, critical thinking, perseverance, communication, and time management. Working on a research project is a complicated task that often has no clear answer and will require lots of independent work and study. By the time you successfully complete your project, you’ll be able to prove you have a whole host of skills that will make you a more attractive candidate to employers or graduate schools. Moreover, there is no better way to get a glowing letter of recommendation from a professor than completing a research project under their guidance.

Leave Your Mark on the World
Now, this might seem a little over the top at first glance. What are the odds that an undergraduate researcher is going to make the next groundbreaking discovery or major invention? Probably not very high. But, in the grand scheme of things, every little discovery or research contribution matters. Little by little, your work could push the boundaries of humanities knowledge. This impact is even more noticeable when you present your research at national conferences or publish your research in a major scientific journal. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, you’ll discover something amazing and change the world.