April 16, 2014

The College recently held a Student Research Symposium where more than 30 students developed posters summarizing their research for an audience that included faculty members and fellow students.


As an educator, it was gratifying to see students who were once apprehensive about getting involved in research stand confidently in front of their posters and answer questions about their projects.

It reminded me of why I believe that research experiences benefit all students – regardless of their areas of study or plans after graduation.

The lessons learned performing research (when I say research, I’m not limiting it to work done in the laboratory, but research in any discipline) are transferable not only to other coursework, but often help sharpen the types of job skills and life skills most valued by employers and graduate schools. Here is a list of five such skills:

1. Communication – Communicating one’s findings in a clear and verifiable way is a critical component of any research project. Activities such as poster development teach students how to present information in a concise manner that is accessible to a wide range of audiences.

2. Critical Thinking – Research requires a student to collection information, analyze it, and then determine what to do next. The more time spent doing research, the better questions one asks. Over time, students learn how to answer their own questions.

3. Teamwork – I stress to students that whatever they’re doing contributes to the larger goals of the research group. Knowing the advancement of the project is dependent on their work is a great motivator that helps students foster team-first attitudes.

4. Adaptability – Research is trial and error. Optimal results are rarely achieved on the first attempt. Students working in this environment learn patience, but as importantly, how to work around obstacles in a manner that helps keep the project moving forward.

5. Independence – Research is not done in isolation, but it undoubtedly encourages independence. It works best when a student feels ownership of the project. Armed with this perspective, they are more likely to see an assignment through to its conclusion instead of leaving it for someone else to finish.

Research is not an easy pursuit. It requires time above and beyond one’s studies and other activities (work study opportunities and the ability to earn academic credit can help ease the burden). But when students view the work as an investment in their personal, academic, and career development, they’ll position themselves to reap the benefits for years to come – no matter where life takes them.

Susan Ludeman, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry. She typically hosts 5-10 students in her lab each semester.

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