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How to incorporate undergraduate research into college life?

I’m a rising senior researching ways to get involved around campus. One thing that I notice is that it is frequent for undergrads to assist in research with their professors, or to conduct their own. I was wondering how do students manage to balance their academic and social life while doing research. I am also confused on how one can have the opportunity to conduct research as a freshman in the first place. For context, I plan on majoring in one of the sciences and applying to PA school. researcher researcher college undergraduate research JULY20

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EmilyAnn’s Answer

Hi! I'm a rising junior in college, and have been doing undergrad physics research for a year now. :)

It's pretty common for science majors to do research at some point in their college career, especially if you plan on continuing your education. I joined a lab led by a professor, with the option of either 6 hours or 12 hours a week. For me, my 6-hour commitment is similar to having a class - I work with my research advisor to schedule weekly lab hours that fit within my class and extracurricular schedule. It can sometimes be hard to manage depending on your course load -- my physics courses can be extremely time consuming -- so if you're feeling overwhelmed, don't be afraid to talk with your advisor about adjusting your time conducting research. I often have to move or cancel my lab hours if I have a major exam coming up, or am unusually bogged down with assignments.

I don't know anyone who started their freshman year doing research - usually you will get to know a professor whose research you're interested in, and ask if they have space for you or if they would be willing to mentor independent research. If you start doing this your first semester, you could manage to snag a spot for the second half of your freshman year. Otherwise, most people I know started in their 2nd or 3rd year.

When balancing your academic and social life, just remember to put yourself first and only sign up for as much as you think you can handle. As long as you manage your time wisely, you should have no problem fitting research into your class schedule and social life -- plenty of undergrads do it! With that being said, always make sure you don't spread yourself too thin - doing too much research can affect your studies, and vice versa. If I can manage a physics course load + research + extracurriculars while still having a social life (and I'm certainly not the best time-manager), so can you!! Good luck :)
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Alycia’s Answer

I was in your shoes exactly a year ago! To answer your first question, if you want to balance research, academics, and your social life in the same semester/quarter, you're going to have to limit yourself in each subject. What I mean is try to start out in a research laboratory or a research project that requires less than 10 hours a week (6-8 hours is even better). Take less rigorous courses or less amount of courses during the school year. Lastly, designate a few days every week or a set time where you have nothing to do-- that way, you can plan to hang out with friends, join a club, go to church, etcetera.
As a pre-PA student myself, I decided to take the minimum amount of units (that would still qualify me as a full-time student) when I first enrolled in a research lab. For the amount of units I signed up for I had to be in the lab for 13.3 hours/week, which took up way too much of my time. The following quarter I took the same amount of units, but opted for 10hr/wk, making sure to leave my weekends as free as possible. I still had time to go on weekend vacations with my family and have the occasional boba date with my friends!
You should have plenty of research opportunities open to every student (freshman or otherwise) on campus; just ask your academic counselor for more information on the different types of research programs you school offers. If you're close to a professor, go to their office hours/email them and ask if they need any research assistants for their lab.
I also wanted to highlight that you are not required to have research experience for PA school. It may make you stand out, but not as much as if you were taking part in leadership roles, having a stellar GPA/GRE scores, or working a job that counts as patient care experience.
If you have any more questions, just comment below and I'll be happy to help. Good luck!
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Morgan’s Answer

Hi Kurt!
I am a rising senior at Purdue University, where I am majoring in Biological Engineering. Last year I participated in undergraduate research where I assisted a graduate student working in extrusion technologies. I have found that there are three main types of research - either working for credit, pay, or for free just for experience. Based on which of those types your time commitments will be a little bit different. For example, when I was doing research for credit, I was committing to about 4-5 hours in the lab per week, plus some additional supplemental work outside. Because of that, I did not find it that difficult to find a balance between school work, research, and a social life.

As far as finding research opportunities, a lot of universities (including Purdue!) offer early start or summer research opportunities where you can get started in those research communities. From there, I have found that most professors LOVE to talk about the research that they do, and often just expressing interest in their research has the potential of leading to an opportunity, if not in their lab, in a fellow professor's. Additionally, most large schools have an online system where you can search for research opportunities as well. If all else fails, just looking up professors in the area you are interested in and sending emails to set up meetings can also work.

Hopefully this helps!
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Gustavo’s Answer

Hey, Kurt. I hope you're okay!

I'll tell you my perspective on the experiences I had in college okay.

Well, the research programs offered to first-year students respect criteria that converge with their academic routines. They have to research some weekly hours, and the student is free to choose the periods and days according to the routines of the subjects they are studying. Thus, the project's development routine does not affect the subjects the academics are studying, not compromising their academic background, which is the most important at this time.

The researches that the first year undergraduate students develop, are introductory, are not sophisticated, they are projects thought for the student's reality making it evolve together with the undergraduate course and little by little also evolve their skills as a researcher.

There are projects for this type of undergraduate student. For example several modalities of scientific initiation, projects thought for the formation of researchers since the early years of the University. These programs include students from their earliest years, supervised by doctoral students, masters, and the heads of the research laboratory.

This is part of the formation of people, the first-year students even without experience begin to have contact with group seminars, see presentations of more experienced students about their projects, and gradually begin to interact with techniques, results, and scientific discussions respecting their characteristics and obligations with the undergraduate course. In this way, the young researcher shapes his skills and characteristics to become a researcher.

I hope I have helped you. Stay safe, my best regards!

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Margaret’s Answer

Another option in addition to EmilyAnn's excellent suggestion is to do an intensive research project over a break in schoolwork. I did a 10 week program that allowed me to work almost as a lab tech in an academic cancer research lab. You would be putting in likely 40 hours a week, just like a job. In addition, many of these programs offer stipends to help with costs. This experience is a lot closer to what you experience if you were a graduate student.