How do you define undergraduate research

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How do you define undergraduate research

Postby VT » Tue Nov 20, 2007 5:50 pm

I am starting this thread just to get an idea of what it exactly means to have been involved in an undergraduate research! Does this mean starting out on our own idea or merely assisting Professors? A lot of time we undergrads are involved in a " research" ( this is acually very vague term,. In this tiny liberal arts College, I am asked to write a "research paper"( what the heck) for my class in philosophy. This I never understand in liberal arts)
We say I have a research experience of three years in physics. I don get it! What new thing do you find that you call it your work a research!
I hear you guys using terms like first author and the second author. What exactly does that mean? In research there is no such thing like the first and the second author(unless you are the one who simply collect data and give it your Prof in which case you are the second author). I hope this is NOT the case with students in this forum coz most of you guys have really good background.

Please feel free to make comments or disgree or IGNORE it if you do not find my point at all.

In my case my undergradaute work has been INDEPENDENT. Ofcourse I take help from professors but the story begins from me NOT the Prof. I am not boasting here, just trying to explain things out here. ( if you think i am boasting, look at my GRE, I have 720 in GRE physics)

(If we have gone for a REU in math, then I am completely wrong, coz there we really WORK INDEPENDNETLY not just sit in front of a comp and read data)

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Postby will » Tue Nov 20, 2007 7:39 pm

Research as an undergrad is basically anything you do within physics that isn't part of your actual coursework. When someone says they've done three years of research, they don't mean writing papers for classes; they do mean three years of working with professors on problems that aren't sufficiently solved. If the problem is well within the student's level of understanding, the professor usually lets them run with it and helps them publish their own paper (as first author).

Second author is a little less meaningful: maybe you were just a data collector, maybe you produced and interpreted all the results but only for one part of a larger project, but clarifying that is what personal statements are for.

Also, maybe you worked out some theory and collected results and after a semester of working it through realize that your model is flawed. Unless it's otherwise very interesting, you don't write a paper about it, but it's still research.

All in all, though, (most) schools don't expect you to disprove general relativity all by yourself as an undergrad. Having research experience is a way of showing that you're capable of doing research and that you're dedicated enough to do science outside of your classes.

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Postby grae313 » Tue Nov 20, 2007 8:21 pm

Since I come from a small department that barely has any experimental research going on, and no research in my areas of interest, I looked outside my school and on the recommendations of my professors, got a paid job doing research at my local NASA branch. It is all directed by a senior research scientist here, but he does not do any lab work. Our group consists of 1 post-doc, 4 graduate students, and myself.

Our boss (the senior research scientist) directs the research, although we meet regularly and discuss ideas and in this way, the direction the research goes is very much influenced by the students. If we have a good idea that we have the resources to investigate, we go for it. It is our group of students that design the experiments, we order the equipment we need, we assemble it, we perform the experiments, we collect the data, we interpret the data. For each project, our boss assigns one or two of us to direct the research, and on its completion, that student writes the paper and becomes the first author.

Essentially, our boss is responsible for organizing our group, deciding our primary areas of research, assigning principle investigators for each project, keeping us directed and on a time frame, getting funding and keeping up with the competing research in our area, providing reports of our progress to his superiors, dealing with the mess of bureaucracy so we don't have to, and helping us edit and submit our publications.

When a paper is published, the authors it lists are typically all of the contributing scientists, ordered with respect to their respective contributions. When I say "first author," I mean the first name in that list of authors, indicating that you were the *primary* writer of the paper's content and usually, the primary researcher of the project.

For the paper on which I am listed first on the list of authors, my boss and I discussed what we wanted to do, another student in our group fabricated the samples I needed at my request, I determined which samples were tested, I determined what tests were run, I ran the tests, I collected the data, I analyzed the data, I wrote the paper, my boss helped me edit it, and then we submitted it.

You do not have to be working independently on your own ideas to be doing research. If this is what you are doing, then you are doing *independent* research, which is impressive, but not all research has to be independent. When most people refer to doing undergraduate research, they refer to joining a research group, usually directed by a professor, and assisting with that research. In some instances, this may mean just collecting data. Usually, if someone is the first author on a publication, it means they did whole lot more than collect data. I think in most instances, research is performed in groups consisting of a professor, perhaps collaborating professors or collaborating professionals, and several students.

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Postby grae313 » Tue Nov 20, 2007 8:22 pm

oh, and also, what will said :)

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