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Why You Should Want to Do Research as an Undergraduate

HAEC | Why You Should Want to Do Research as an Undergraduate

Student research is an integral part of an American college education—and not just at the graduate level and not just in the sciences. Undergraduates at Hellenic American College/Hellenic American University, whatever their major, do original research at various points during their studies.

These projects can take a variety of forms, such as a research internship or apprenticeship, a senior Capstone project, or a course-based team research experience. But they are all based on a notion of learning as doing and learning as becoming. They all help you become a more effective researcher, a better communicator, a more valuable team member, and a better writer. They help you gain greater self-confidence and experience in presenting and defending your work. At the same time, they help you forge a sense of yourself as a future professional. Finally, you'll wind up producing a substantive work piece of original research that you can show to prospective employers.

With benefits like these, why would you not want to do research?

Learning as doing, learning as becoming

Becoming an engineer or an English teacher or a psychologist is never just a matter of mastering a body of knowledge set down in textbooks. Indeed, in a world where we have immediate and easily searchable access to a vast reservoir of knowledge in every imaginable discipline—and within reach of our phone—one could argue it may not even be the most significant part of learning. You also need to acquire experience and competency in how the discipline is practiced. However, these practices—such as investigating a problem, designing a model, communicating findings—can only be learned when you do them.

Furthermore, professionals, whatever their field, never work completely in isolation, even when, as in the case of translators, they may spend a good deal of their time working on their own. Each belongs to a "community of practice," a group of people working on common endeavors with a shared set of practices, standards of behavior, and codes of ethics. They belong to professional networks, join online translation forums and take part in conferences. In short, they identify as professionals.

For students, this ability to consider themselves as future professionals can open up new opportunities for learning and networking, giving them an important competitive advantage on the job market. But this can't be learned in a classroom or library.

Opportunities for undergraduate research

This is where student research projects come in, as they are an excellent medium for learning by doing. Hellenic American College/Hellenic American University offers undergraduates a range of rewarding research experiences.

1. Student-Faculty Collaborative Research

Working directly one-on-one with a faculty member on a research project can be an immensely rewarding experience. Students who are fortunate enough to do a research internship not only begin to think more like scientists but they're more likely to see themselves as future researchers. Students may even have an opportunity to co-present the research with their professor at a conference or see their contribution acknowledged in the research publication—providing them with a strong competitive advantage when seeking admission to graduate school or applying for a job.

Take Hellenic American University alumnus Faith Adeosun, for example. As an undergraduate in the BSBA program he collaborated with Dr. Lia Siachou, Associate Professor of Management, in a study of leadership and volunteer service. The paper that emerged from this study is now being reviewed for possible publication in an academic journal.

Finding a research internship may not always be possible, partly because there are more students interested than faculty members available. Luckily, Hellenic American University academic programs offer a diverse range of alternatives to ensure that all students can do research through the course of their studies.

2. Course-Based Research Projects

One is through course-based undergraduate research. In these projects, you work in a team to investigate and develop solutions to a real-world challenge, using real-life cases, materials, and data. For example, students in marketing classes taught by Dr. Damian Giannakis, Assistant Professor in the Business programs, work in teams of three or four to complete a semester-long research project—the drafting, for example, of a marketing plan, a rebranding campaign, or a media plan—in cooperation with one of a dozen or so Greek or multinational firms. Dr. Giannakis's students have done projects for companies ranging from the financial services sector to the food and beverage industry.

After a month of desk research spent familiarizing themselves with the company and the challenges at hand, students begin meeting with company representatives, conducting interviews with managers, plant supervisors, and other key informants, sometimes—but not always—in the presence of a silent "expert observer" who will later help participants reflect on their performance during these sessions. The project, once completed, is presented to company managers for assessment and feedback.

Such course-based research projects cultivate, in Dr. Giannakis's words, "an incredible gamut of competencies," from time management and business communications to teamwork and leadership skills. Just as importantly, he says, "they get first-hand experience of how marketing is actually done in the real world."

The result is a win-win situation for both students and the companies, with benefits extending beyond the scope of the project itself. Students gain a remarkable sense of accomplishment having produced work that can stand on its own professionally and the satisfaction of having contributed with their—original—research to a problem of broader relevance than a textbook case. For their part, firms that sponsor projects sometimes wind up adopting some of the ideas and recommendations the students have come up with.

3. Capstone Projects

In architecture, a capstone is the wedge-shaped stone at the apex of an arch. The last piece to be set into the arch, it crowns and supports the entire span. Likewise, the capstone project is undertaken after completing all the courses in your major and is meant to be the crowning achievement of your studies in the field.

It is a chance to review and apply the theories, tools, and techniques you have learned during your course of studies and demonstrate your command of practices in the discipline. All the Hellenic American University undergraduate degree programs require a senior project, whether a Capstone, thesis, or, in the case of the Bachelor of Music, a recital.

In the Hellenic American University BSBA Capstone, for example, students work in teams to develop a strategic plan addressing the challenges a real-world organization is facing. They analyze a broad spectrum of factors, ranging from organizational processes and resource and time constraints to risk management and relations with colleagues and clients. In the end, they are expected to present and justify their recommendations orally and in writing.

The BSPsy Capstone, on the other hand, is an empirical research project that the student designs in consultation with her mentor and carries out on her own. Like the BSBA Capstone, this research project helps students develop further their analytical, communications, and critical reasoning skills.

Benefits from Your Research Experience

Projects such as these benefit you in ways that ordinary textbook-based labs and cookbook assignments cannot. The report of findings of the Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) Network, an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation, identified several such advantages.

One of the most important has to do with the notion of discovery. Original research, unlike textbook assignments, doesn't have a predetermined or known outcome. There's no way to predict in advance how they'll turn out; you may encounter—and have to deal with—unexpected challenges or new data, and you'll need to assess this new information and determine its relevance and potential impact.

You'll also be involved in a broad spectrum of research activities, not just collecting or analyzing data. For the Capstone and other CURE projects, such as the ones for Dr. Giannakis's marketing classes, you'll design the study and collect, analyze, and interpret the data, deal with anomalies, and communicate your findings.

Because the project is one you've designed and involves original research, you'll find yourself more committed than you imagined. Dr. Richard Reis, a research liaison at Stanford University and author of Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering, notes that "projects that are real to students help address the major student impediment we have noted: motivation… When students believe in the importance and legitimacy of the task, their psychic investment is higher and their motivation improves." You may even find, as some of our students do, that you want to pursue your research interests further and decide to apply for graduate study.