One of the best things you can do while you are in college is to get involved in research. You might think that you can only do this at a large university, where there is an active graduate program. However, it is likely the case that most full-time faculty members, even at four-year colleges with only undergraduates, are conducting some kind of research. It may even be the case that community college faculty are active researchers.
Keep in mind that faculty and undergraduate student research on campus go hand-in-hand. This research is highly encouraged and undergraduates (from freshmen to seniors) across all subject areas take advantage of this opportunity. Moreover, faculty members want undergraduates to be involved in what they are investigating.
There are at least four advantages for getting involved with faculty research, all of which will positively impact your experience while in college and well-beyond graduation. First, you will have the chance to be part of exciting discoveries and to learn new ideas outside of a classroom. When you work with a faculty member you are really involved with the “nuts and bolts” of research. You’re not just reading about the research, you are actually conducting in-depth inquiry and exploration. Second, when it comes time to graduate you will be well beyond your peers in terms of career and academic preparedness. Third, working directly with a professor will help build a professional network for your field of interest. If graduate or professional school is a personal goal of yours, undergraduate research participation and connections with faculty will aid in that pursuit. Research experience will show your dedication and motivation. Finally, related to the previous point you will be able to get a letter of recommendation from your mentor. These letters are extremely important, whether you are applying to graduate or professional school or you are applying for a job.
To get involved with a faculty member’s research is usually pretty simple:
1) Check out the type of research that a faculty member is conducting. Of course, with the Internet finding this out is easy. If a particular faculty member is conducting research you think is interesting you are set to move forward.
2) Contact the faculty member you want to work with to see if they are planning to work with new students. If they are, set up a time to meet in person. You can send them an email to make first contact, but to me I don’t see a problem if you decide to stop by their office during office hours to make initial contact. I will say, however, that when you stop by a faculty member’s office you might consider getting “dressed-up” just a bit—first impressions go along way.
3) Meet with them. When you actually get together with a potential mentor, be ready to talk—don’t go to the meeting unprepared. Read up more on what the faculty member has been studying and be prepared with questions. Let the faculty member see that not only are you interested in their research, but that you are able to have an adult-to-adult conversation.
4) Discuss possible ways you can work with this faculty member. These include volunteering, getting course credit as part of an Independent Studies course, or even doing an Honors project (usually reserved for seniors). The key is that there are usually several ways you can work with this faculty member.
As a faculty member I have really enjoyed working with undergraduates in my lab. I’m proud to say that most of these students have gone on to graduate school, law school, or professional school. Like them, I feel you too can benefit from getting involved in undergraduate research.
There are a lot of different memory techniques that you can use to learn material for class. The one I’m going to talk about today is called an acronym. This is a word that you make by taking the first letter or first few letters of each word you’re trying to remember and then using these to spell a new word. We actually use these all the time; the word SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Another acronym is NABISCO, which stands for NAtional BIscuit COmpany. Here’s an acronym you might already know, which, unlike the last two, is meant as a memory aid rather than only creating a shorter word: ROY G. BIV, which stands for the colors of the visible spectrum (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet). If you already use this acronym to remember these colors, you can see that acronyms can be very handy.
Acronyms are easy to use; let’s look at an example of how it’s done. Let’s say you had to learn the names of the Great Lakes for a Geography class. The names of these lakes are Ontario, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. To make an acronym, write down the first letter of each word and move the letters around until you spell something. Here, that would be HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior). Now take your time and think about the word HOMES and the names of the Great Lakes that begin with each of its five letters. After a few rehearsals you’ll know the Great Lakes perfectly.
Another example: the three Axis powers of the Second World War were Germany, Japan, and Italy. Can you think of an acronym to remember them? I’m thinking that you came up with JIG. I’m also thinking that you will have no problem remembering this word, and that once you think of this word, you’ll have no problem remembering the Axis powers.
As you come up with acronyms, keep these things in mind.
1) Try to spell a real word. Some students have told me that they use made-up words, but I think this makes things needlessly hard.
2) It’s best if one of the words you need to learn starts with a vowel, or else you’ll have trouble spelling any word you can reasonably pronounce. You can get around this, though, even if it might make the acronym slightly more difficult to remember. If I had to memorize three large cities for some–New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles–I could add a vowel to make the semi-acronym CLaN. I would actively imagine the consonants as uppercase and the extra vowel as lowercase to remind me that only the uppercase letters stood for anything.
Acronyms can really help you come exam time. In later posts I’ll talk about different memory aids.
Getting all your studying done can be a real drag, but one way to make it easier is to join a study group. Here are some reasons why you might want to consider studying with others at least some of the time.
1) A study group can test you on the material. You can test yourself, but maybe you’ll be tempted to get a bit lazy about this—moving to the next item when you feel sure you know something. It’s easier for someone else, like a classmate in a study group, to be tough and make sure you have the right answer before moving on.
2) Most students don’t have a very regimented study schedule, only studying when they feel they have the time, and therefore missing or avoiding studying. When you’re in a study group, your schedule is strictly determined. If the group meets on Tuesday and Thursday at 9 PM, then that’s when you are going to study; you can’t keep rescheduling your study time and get off track.
3) A less obvious benefit of a study group is that you can compare your notes with those of other members of the group to make sure your notes are complete. During class, it’s easy to miss important material that might be on the exam because you were thinking about something else. In your study group, it’s unlikely that everyone missed the same part of the lecture.
4) You can discuss the class material with those who think differently from you and who each bring unique strengths to the group. Your classmates may understand certain things better than you, and be able to explain them to you. This will make your study session go faster.
5) In a study group, you will have to clearly explain things so that everyone in the group can follow. Because others depend on your ability to explain things, this will push you to thoroughly learn the material.
6) A study group can help build friendships. I always preach that college is a time to grow intellectually, but also a time to grow personally. You can get to know others as you learn material and hopefully become good friends with them—and the friendships you make in college can last a lifetime.
In closing: I understand that some of you only want to study by yourselves. Please consider what I have said, and think carefully about your decision. For some of you, studying with others can really pay off.