I recently posted a piece extrapolating on how to get involved in research as an undergraduate, but what is the fuss about undergraduate research? Is that not what graduate school is designed for, practical experiences to fully certify the student? This may be true, but research at the undergraduate level can give you much needed experience earlier in your career. Here are some skills that (in my experience) undergraduate research can improve.
Critical Thinking Skills
Here is a truth that conducting undergraduate research has driven home: If you are going to make a claim, you need to be able to back it up. Research experience can teach you how to ask questions about the world, and search for good answers to those questions.
For example, the internet is filled with posts filled with information that may or may not be true. When you find yourself reading some of these reports, your research experience will have taught you the correct way of being skeptical. You will find yourself asking instinctive questions such as: who conducted the research, what methods were used to make this judgment, can I see the actual data? Heck, maybe you are reading this post right now, and asking questions like: why should I listen to you, what are your qualifications, what proof of these claims do you have? All I can say is this is my personal experience, but I digress. Point is researchers are trained in the importance of hard facts. This is a great skill to have in the workplace.
Creative Problem Solving
I have found that the development of my critical thinking skills has led to an increased ability of solving problems in the work place. In the past, I was someone who could solve problems that I had faced before with ease, yet I would struggle with new problems I encountered. I am finding that pattern to be changing as I become more educated. If I were to point toward a cause of this growth, I would point toward my experience conducting research and time spent in my research-oriented classes. Discussing the methodological construction of research studies has opened my eyes to the many ways questions can be answered. Do NOT underestimate this skill.
This might seem pretty obvious. “You gained lab skills by doing research? No way!” The important fact is that gaining lab skills as an undergraduate can look fantastic on your resume. I am very glad to have my own research experience, because if I decide to go to graduate school, I will be prepared! A number of my professors have told us students stories from former students explaining how grateful they were to have research experience. Apparently, the students with lab practice were much more comfortable with their graduate programs, due to training with statistics and methodological design.
In conclusion, I figure research experience just makes for better people and better employees. Having technical experience looks good, and will make you a more efficient thinker. Now, this is not to say that every person needs to have research experience, but if the opportunity arises, try it out. Perhaps your career path is taking you in a different direction. Maybe you feel like you would be better served with on the job training, internships, or some similar method of gaining experience. Even then, I would highly encourage any student to conduct research if they have the opportunity. It will diversify your skillset, and that looks mighty impressive.