Need-to-Knows About Research Opportunities

A student shows her research

By: Amanda Madenberg, HE ’20

Cornell has an abundance of research opportunities that students can pursue, and the important thing to remember is that you can participate in research regardless of your area of interest. Freshmen can get involved as early as their first day.

Even if you haven’t had previous research experience, you are welcome to join the research community. There are different kinds of research pursuits: labs, where you may devote time either for academic credit or for money, project teams, which are teams of students (often but not limited to Engineering students) working towards a common goal, and Independent Studies, which are classes you may choose to take with the supervision of a particular professor.

Research for you may be a small extracurricular involvement to which you only devote a few hours per week, or it can be a major undertaking of your time at Cornell: it’s up to you. I personally hadn’t planned to explore research opportunities when I first arrived on campus; I hadn’t previously had exposure and didn’t see myself in a white lab coat. Luckily, there are many research labs on campus that piqued my interest, and when I realized how many different kinds of research existed, I decided to give it a try.

There are a few ways you can become involved in the research community if you don’t know where to begin. I decided to approach a particular professor during his office hours. He taught one of my intro classes in Human Development and frequently spoke about his lab and his research findings. Even though it was only the end of my freshman year and I’d had no prior experience, he was more than happy to read my application and then welcome me on board. A graduate research assistant took me under her wing, and we worked together to cultivate my participation in the lab, which included writing up a results section and then exploring a new study with a few other students. I met great people that I wouldn’t have worked with otherwise, and I really enjoyed the experience overall. Because of my time helping out in this lab setting, I realized that I had an interest in the process of scientific discovery. After taking an initial class in Human Development research methods, where I conducted my own experiment from start to finish and learned how to analyze the data I collected, I was able to serve as a Teaching Assistant for the course.

Visiting a professor during office hours is just one way to become involved, however. You may also join the Cornell University Research Board (CURB), which will provide you with many opportunities to find your niche within the world of research. In addition to hosting research symposiums where you can ask questions and interact with people conducting research in all corners of campus, you can request an upperclassman mentor to be your student resource for research-related questions.

Many undergraduates become heavily involved in research and may choose to present their own findings at national and worldwide conferences. There are so many ways you can grow with research—no matter your time commitment or how you get involved. You can have a research experience that is meaningful for you and your interests.