After presentations, a few attendees usually ask why someone chose to follow the path they are on, and how they get started. There are lots of benefits to getting involved in research during your undergraduate years.

1. You Get to Know a Professor

This is the easiest one to think of, and possibly the one that motivates many students in their later years. While working in a research laboratory or center you get to interact with your professors on another level. Not only do you feel better about asking them for a reference letter, but it is likely they will write you a better one. While working with your professors you also get to know them as people and they can be valuable resources for life and school advice.

2. You Get to Know Graduate students and Teaching Assistants

In the majority of research environments as an undergraduate student you will be working on a team with senior students and graduate students. Not only will you have the opportunity to attend more “mature” parties, but you will have the opportunity to ask them advice about a myriad of important things. For instance during my first years in the lab, I was coached on how to write grants, prepare better presentations, and even what school courses to take to complete my program. Also, if you happen to take more courses with the prof you are doing research with it is likely these graduate students will be the ones marking your assignments and tests. If they know you, you tend to get the benefit of the doubt.

3. You Gain an Appreciation for the Scientific Method, Research Process, and the Production of Knowledge

In undergraduate classes you go along learning fact after fact and method after method only to use in lab reports, assignments, and tests. One benefit to getting involved in research is you get to understand how these concepts you learned in class came to be and how new knowledge is created in your field of interest. Usually your mentor will guide you through steps of the different steps of the research process from developing a reviewing the literature, developing a research question, conducting data analysis, and using the available knowledge to interpret results. For me, this is was a great experience- not only did I learn to use what I learned in stats class, but after joining the lab I began to see the value in techniques and concepts learned in classes. Also, research and knowledge generation are the functions universities were created for, you owe it to your experience to participate in them.

4. Lab Space

This one is more practical than the previous one’s I mentioned. Every lab I started in I was lucky enough to be designated a working area. Having a working area inside a lab/ research area is the best! While I was a big fan of the library, I found having my own work space, even if it was shared with others sometimes, to be a million times better than the library. I used the workspace in the lab as an extra storage space for my textbooks and shoes (1 pair). I would also use it as a study area for things other than research or work. Imagine having a place on campus where you can go, study, eat, and work at almost any time.

5. Doing Research Allows You to Learn Practical Skills Used in Other Areas

When I began doing research I had no idea how to code. I have since become an efficient programmer in multiple programming languages and have gained a myriad of other technical and non-technical skills. Not only will the skills you learn in the lab make you an asset to other labs similar to your own, but they can come in handy when applying for jobs or professional schools after graduation. Being in the research setting allows you to constantly practice and hone your new skills, you will also be able to learn new ones because methodologies always change.

If you haven’t tried research, try approaching a professor who teaches a course that you like and ask to volunteer with them, also apply for summer scholarships or job postings in research laboratories. Who knows? you may end up enjoying yourself and before you know it you’re spending 4 years after undergrad in school.

Guest post by Gerome Manson, a 1st year graduate student at the University of Toronto studying motor control.  When not in the lab, Gerome can be found on his bike enjoying a nice ride through the trails of Toronto’s west end. However, not being the lab is rare.

[Photo Credit: gsfc on flickr]