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Beyond Methods and Statistics: Undergraduate Research

by Sarah Thomas

A few months ago, my only previous experience with academic research came from glossing over peer reviewed articles assigned in class with glazed eyes and minimal interest. All that changed a few months ago when I was admitted into the McNair Scholar’s Program. What exactly is the McNair Scholars Program? According to the Indiana University Bloomington McNair Scholar’s website, “the McNair Scholars Program prepares participants for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. Participants are from low-income/first-generation backgrounds, or underrepresented groups and have demonstrated strong academic potential.  Each year, McNair Scholars participate in academic year and summer activities that include research and teaching experiences.  The goal is to increase the attainment of Ph.D. degrees by students from underrepresented segments of society.”

“Super awesome!” is how I’d define the program in my own words. Over the summer, I went from an inexperienced novice, to a competent and experienced researcher. I feel fully prepared to continue my research endeavors in graduate school and beyond. This program taught me many amazing skills that I will use later in my professional life.  Here are just a few things I learned how to do in just ten short weeks.

Approach a faculty member: Everyone encourages it, but it was something that I had never done before I was admitted to the program. The McNair program requires that before any student engages in academic research, they must contact an IU faculty member and discuss their research interests. That faculty member then serves as a mentor throughout the summer. While working with Maresa Murray, Ph.D. of the Applied Health Sciences Department, I was introduced to other IUSPH faculty members. This has already offered me multiple opportunities.

Create a literature review: At first glance, a literature review just seems to be a well written paper. In a paper, recent and relevant research is synthesized to form a well-informed opinion.  However, unlike a paper, a literature review provides the needed credibility to back up your own needs to conduct research. A literature review is the first step in adding to the ongoing dialogue in your area of interest.

Become a scientist! Through this program I had the freedom to create my own experiment and define my own variables.  I produced a new and unique set of data that I was able to analyze.

Learn new skills: Before entering the program, I had not taken a research methods or statistics course. After completing the program, I feel as if I have a great deal of useful background information in those areas.  I also learned how to use many computer programs I had never used before including Excel, Access, and SPSS.

Become comfortable with myself as a scholar: I found the mentor, I read the literature, I conducted the experiment, and then they wanted me to talk about myself. Yikes! The program held meetings with other students in the program, an afternoon reception with faculty and staff, and a summer’s end professional presentation. During each event I was placed in the position where I not only had to talk about myself, but explain my work. Doing this helped me build confidence, not only in my work, but in myself.

Make my dreams a reality! Before the McNair Program, I’d always thought of graduate school as a distant, almost impossible idea. Now I see it as a very realistic goal. The sky is the limit and in a few short years, students may be addressing me as, “Professor.”   I feel as if I will be fully prepared to pursue advanced degrees because of the program. I plan to begin visiting graduate schools in the spring.

Tips for undergraduate research:

  • Take a refresher course Haven’t used Excel since you barely got a B- in K201? Forgotten everything you learned in statistics about SPSS? UITS offers a wide variety of online resources as well as training seminars for a variety of programs that will make your research easier to complete.
  • Dream big, research small Initial brainstorming for a project produces tons of great ideas. Many of them probably require resources that an undergraduate student may not have available to them.  Find a faculty member who is already working on a project that is within your field and, ask them to add your name to their experiment as a contributor. Doing so can provide a bounty of additional resources such as access to additional literature, equipment, and human and animal subjects.
  • Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone If there isn’t a faculty member whose research interests match your own at IU, don’t be afraid to contact a professor at another university. Likewise, don’t be afraid to take part in a research project outside of your own area of research interest. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain from a new perspective!

Getting Started:

McNair Scholars Program
803 E. Eight Street
812-855-4005
 

IUSPH Research Faculty

http://info.hper.indiana.edu/

Ongoing IUSPH Research

http://www.hper.indiana.edu/research/programs.shtml

 

Sarah Thomas is a Junior studying Human Development and Family Studies. Over the summer she produced an unpublished research paper entitled Sexual Content in Reality Television: What Images Influence the Sexual Identities of Adolescent Minority Females? With the guidance of the McNair Scholars Program and Maresa Murray, Ph.D.

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