Undergraduate Research on the Upswing

Cnn.com profiles an exciting trend -- an upswing in undergraduates conducting original research. I have long encouraged college students to create their own senior research projects, even if their colleges don't require them, and even if they don't plan on becoming academics. Grad schools and employers love to see senior projects, because they demonstrate those students' initiative, self-discipline, intellectual curiosity, ability to manage large projects, and skill at interacting with professors and senior colleagues on a more professional level.

I've heard college students complain to me that a senior project would just be too much work, in which case... hope you like clock-punching at a McJob, because that will be the only "career" you can handle. The upwardly mobile working world is going to be just as demanding as a senior research project, if not more so.

Noteworthy parts of the article:

The push also is coming from a growing recognition that -- whether it's science or literature or history -- research seems to do students all sorts of good, even if they don't make a career out of it. Not only are undergraduate researchers more engaged in their subject, but they also appear to improve more broadly in teamwork and collegiality -- skills employers value but complain students don't typically learn in class.

They also gain a network of people who help keep them on track to graduation. Students involved in research "are more likely to go visit faculty in their office hours because they think the faculty really care about their academic success," said Sandra Gregerman, director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program at the University of Michigan.

And there's some evidence that research gives an extra boost to groups that fall off track at higher rates, such as minorities and women interested in science careers.