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Undergraduate Research - Is it worth it?

The papers published in this volume reflect a serious commitment of time and energy. But they also reflect a commitment, and perhaps this is the commitment most salient to the authors, to making one self-vulnerable: an anxiety understood only by others who have risked exposure to scrutiny and criticism. After all, here are all the papers for you to praise or condemn as you will. One of the strongest values of the enterprise of undergraduate research as a whole lies in that risk. To be the recipient of criticism is to learn the wisdom of humility. Nevertheless, the papers here—even if many of the ideas expressed therein can be challenged (as they should be)—are impressive. Read for yourselves and discover, if you haven’t already, the remarkable high-quality output of young (academic if not chronologic) minds. Why is undergraduate research (UR) important at our university? I could cite a variety of recently published research (and I would but this is a foreword, not a scholarly article so I am, temporarily, unfettered) testifying to the value of UR. The research would show that a close mentor relationship between faculty and student is a key ingredient for a meaningful research experience. It would also show that many students report that UR, along with studying abroad, is a significant, if not the most significant, learning experience in college. Perhaps most important, the research on the UR experience would show that the deepest learning—learning how to find the answers to important questions, even if not a complete or even satisfactory answer—is a skill to be carried to the grave. The tangible benefits these authors accrue are apparent: a valued line on the resume, a skill sought by a graduate school or employer, something of interest to discuss in an interview. But the intangible benefit looms larger—the satisfaction of natural curiosity. And that, for our information-processing species, is invaluable.

Mark Harvey
Director, Undergraduate Research