What is Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity?

Undergraduate research is an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline. At USU, undergraduate research encompasses  the arts, humanities, STEM, education, business, and other applied fields.

Defined as a “high impact practice” — that is, an educational practice that has been shown to quantitatively improve student learning and qualitatively improve student experience — undergraduate research is supported by the university on many levels, from individual faculty mentoring individual students to campus-wide programs such as the Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities Grants, which fund about 60 to 70 students a year as they undertake significant, independent projects.

Some examples of undergraduate research at USU include:

  • Professor Colin Flint’s Aggies Geopolitical Observatory project — a team of undergraduate scholars investigating the political structures and processes underlying major news stories, whose website has received over 12,000 unique external pageviews since January 2018.
  • A devised-theater project (a type of play based on the testimony of ordinary people) focused on the experience of depression, produced with the participation of  trained actors alongside patients suffering from depression, with both artistic and therapeutic goals.
  • A long-term study of the social behavior of resident Orcas (“killer whales”) in Puget Sound as they navigate changes in the environment brought about by new marine technologies and other human-introduced factors.
  • The development of a potential vaccine for the Zika virus based on an earlier vaccine model for Japanese Encephalitis, using biological engineering techniques to be responsive to the rapid rate of mutation that takes place in infectious viruses.
  • A study of the native fish populations in Utah Lake as they are impacted by the fast pace of urban development in the surrounding communities, specifically examining how their reproductive health is impacted when runoff from paved streets increases the flow of contaminants into the shallow waters.
  • A series of monumental paintings exploring the theme of memory loss and family through the “rough translation” into paint of old family photographs, a project co-funded by the Alzheimer’s Association.

Can I get involved in research, even if i don't have any prior experience?

Yes! The first step towards research involvement is curiosity, and in fact, one becomes a researcher as soon as one begins asking questions in a systematic way. So, you can be a researcher from the first day you step on campus, or even before.

In practical terms, each fall, we host a “How to Get Started in Research” workshop open to all students, while Undergraduate Research Fellows just starting in the program attend a series of intensive workshops that we call “research bootcamp.”

At the heart of the process of getting started are the following actions, which you can take even before you get to school:

  • Identify your passions and find them in the university landscape: If you love music, but also physics and math, what are some of the connections between these fields? Maybe you’ve always been good with young children, and you’re interested in a health profession as well? You’re a fantastic athlete, and you live for the time you spend out in the wilderness? You love making and eating healthy food, but you also think a lot about how some people don’t have access to it?  Or perhaps you’re a huge fan of manga, and you can’t get enough of politics? Looking for connections between what might seem completely different areas of interest, and topics that fall outside what you might think of as “academic” will help you find yourself on the research map.
  • Explore college, department, and faculty webpages: Research is happening all across the university, both on the Logan campus and across the state at our regional campuses and extension offices. Faculty webpages usually include a link to their “curriculum vitae” or “CV” — an extended resume of all their scholarly accomplishments, and often you can find out a lot about what’s going on in a particular lab, artist’s studio, clinic, or individual scholar’s office just by looking at these webpages. Sometimes, there’s even a call for student volunteers.
  • Talk to your professors, graduate student instructors, and academic advisers: Believe it or not, these people are here specifically because they like to talk to undergraduates, and they especially like it when a student who is curious and eager to get involved in research comes around — instead of bringing them a problem, you’re bringing them an opportunity. Tell them you’re interested in research, and ask their advice!
  • Attend a Research Office orientation on How to Get Started in Research, or make an appointment with us to meet one-on-one. You can also sign up to “find a mentor“, and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction.

What are the benefits of undergraduate research?

Involvement in undergraduate research has been shown, over many years and many different studies, to increase your likelihood of graduating, maintaining a high GPA, continuing your education at the graduate level, developing a strong career trajectory (rather than just getting a job), and experiencing satisfaction in your educational experience.

There are also some more concrete, immediate benefits to participating in undergraduate research:

  • Getting to know your professors and instructors as people and coworkers, not just distant authority figures
  • The satisfaction of knowing that you have made, or contributed to making, an original contribution to a field of knowledge or cultural expression
  • The chance to present your research to a variety of audiences on campus, across the state, nationally, and internationally
  • Real-world, hands-on experience in specific skills that adds lines on your resume
  • Opportunities for paid research assistantships and internships both on- and off-campus
  • Eligibility for internal grants, scholarships, and awards with financial benefits attached
  • Increased chances of qualifying for prestigious national fellowships such as the Goldwater Scholarship, the Fulbright Scholarship, and the Rhodes Scholarship

As one undergraduate researcher put it, “I learned more from my two semesters as a research assistant than I did from all the hours I spent in the classroom — there just was not the option to not care or not pay attention.”

What is special about Undergraduate Research at Utah State?

Aside from the fact that USU can boast of the second oldest Undergraduate Research program in the nation (founded in 1975, one year after MIT founded its program), we also have a unique institutional commitment to supporting undergraduate research across the disciplines at all levels. Some of the ways in which we do this include:

  • Undergraduate Research Fellows program, launched in 2004 to encourage the development of USU’s most promising young researchers, scholars, and creative artists
  • Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities Grants, initiated in 1975, providing up to $2000 of support for student-initiated, independent projects
  • Undergraduate Research Conference Travel funds, helping students present their work at professional meetings and conferences around the globe
  • A new partnership between Undergraduate Research and Federal Work Study designed to encourage students from underrepresented groups to get in on undergraduate research
  • Support for students who want to present their work at the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, Research on Capitol Hill (Utah State Capitol), and Posters on the Hill (Washington DC) — we defray costs of registration and travel to ensure that as many students as possible can participate
  • On-campus student-research-oriented events, including the Fall Student Research Symposium, and Research Week’s epic Student Research Symposium
  • University-wide and college-level awards for outstanding undergraduate researchers, including the prestigious Peak Prize for the undergraduate researcher of the year.
  • College-based undergraduate research initiatives including the College of Science Minigrant program for those just getting their feet wet as scientific researchers, the Engineering Undergraduate Research Program scholarships, Caine Summer Arts Fellows, USU Extension Internships, and a host of others
  • Faculty incentives for mentoring undergraduate research, including credit towards promotion and tenure