Student Research Overview
Research is the creation of new knowledge. At CSULB students are highly encouraged to collaborate with faculty on research projects. The projects may be related to the faculty member's research program or initiated by the student. Participation in research is a way to learn more about a scientific sub-discipline and to learn about the scientific method: observation; explanation of those observations through formulating hypotheses; design and performance of experiments to test the hypothesis; analysis of experimental results; and finally communication those results, the conclusions that can be drawn from them, and their significance.
Why Do Research?
Research is a high impact practice in higher education; it benefits student success. Regardless of whether research will be a part of their future careers, participation in research helps students develop skills in critical thinking, creative problem solving, and communication. These skills are highly valued in any career; they are real-world skills often not explicitly emphasized in classes or scheduled laboratories but of primary concern to employers. Research is a form of active learning that helps translate "what do you know" into "what you can do" -- a basis for critical interview questions often asked by prospective employers.
Of course, for those who aspire to research careers, student research is an early immersive experience that helps define interests and talents, and can identify optimal career paths that a student may wish to pursue in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate, professional opportunities in STEM fields are expected to grow by about 12.5% between 2012 and 2022 - faster than non-STEM fields. Some student research experiences may provide an opportunity to co-author a journal article with a faculty mentor – a great addition for resumes and applications.
Benefits of Conducting Original Research
In addition to fostering skills in critical thinking, creative problem solving, and communication, research provides insight into what it entails to be an active scientist, mathematician, or educator. Developing this insight through hands-on experience allows students to make informed decisions about whether a future in research is right for them. In conducting original research with a faculty mentor, students learn the excitement of discovery and gain scientific literacy.
Scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity". A scientifically literate person has the capacity to:
- Use reason to interpret scientific facts and their meaning and determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences.
- Describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena.
- Understand and evaluate the quality of scientific information, as reported in the popular press, on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it.
- Identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed.
Being scientifically literate helps us evaluate the tremendous volume of knowledge available through online sources and social media. Today, humans create 5 exabytes of information every 48 hours (storage for about 200 billion songs as MP3s or 13,000 years of HD-TV video), and the digital universe is growing by a factor of 44. Is it all "good" information? It is correct? It is useful? How can we tell? Science literacy is more important than ever. So, while you are at CSULB: Don't just gain knowledge– create it!
How to Find Research Opportunities
Research occurs in all disciplines, from Physics to Fine Arts, from Anthropology to Zoology. Research is not limited to the sciences, though it is often most prevalent in those disciplines. As a student in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, you will find research opportunities in all six departments of the college: Biological Sciences; Chemistry and Biochemistry; Geological Sciences; Mathematics and Statistics; Physics and Astronomy; and Science Education. SAS staff, CNSM academic advisors, and department undergraduate advisors can be good starting points for gathering information on research opportunities.
Connect with Faculty
Gather information about faculty research areas of interest. There are several places to find this information: the undergraduate research binder physically located in the Jensen SAS Center (updated annually); informal seminars on campus; course instructors; talking to peers, especially those who may already be working in a lab; and CNSM departmental and program websites.
Find faculty whose research sparks your interest and curiosity. Initially, you may want to talk to students who work with faculty members whose research interests you. They can tell you about the structure of the lab , who is likely to mentor you (in addition to the professor), and the culture of the lab. These conversations will help you decide if the faculty member is a good fit for you. Ultimately, you will need to meet with the faculty, and it is a good idea to prepare for that meeting. Read some of the scientific articles they have recently published, even if you just read the abstract and look at the figures. Many professors have e-copies of their publications on their research website. Or you can find their articles with a quick search on Google Scholar. Be prepared to talk about why you want to do research, what research interests you, and your future goals. Ask about expectations for research assistants, the time commitment, and your role in the lab.
For course credit you can typically expect to do 3-4 hours of research-related activities per week for each unit of undergraduate course credit. Yes, you can receive academic credit for conducting research in a professor's lab – options include: signing up for a one-unit seminar course (NSCI 496) or for Directed Research (Bio/Chem/Geo/Phys 496 and Math 496/497). Check the CSULB Catalog for further information.
There are no comparable guidelines for volunteer researchers but it is wise to only commit as much time as you can comfortably afford to dedicate. Whatever time commitment you work out for your research participation, remember that the professor and the lab team are counting on your consistency and dependability.
In some instances you can get paid to do research. There are a number of institutional research programs available through the College and specific Departments that provide student fiscal support in the form of stipends or wages. These programs typically have application processes and eligibility requirements. There are also paid research positions associated with grants obtained by individual professors.
- Carpi A, Ronan DM, Falconer HM and Lents NH (2016). Cultivating Minority Scientists: Undergraduate Research Increases Self-Efficacy and Career Ambitions for Underrepresented Students in STEM. J Res Sci Teaching. published online
- National Academy of Sciences (1996). National Science Education Standards (Report). National Academy Press.
- National Center for Education Statistics (2011). "International Mathematics and Science Literacy (Indicator 16-2011)". The Condition of Education.
- Gantz J and Reinsel D. (2010). The digital universe decade – Are you ready? International Data Corporation –IView. published online