The Value of Undergraduate Research

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By Sarah DeMartino, Sophomore

Undergraduate research was something that took me by surprise. I was a freshman, only a week out of high school, when I had FTCAP (Penn State's version of freshman orientation). I was choosing classes and talking with my adviser, Dr. Daniela Martin. We were discussing my interests and what I'd been involved in during high school, when she told me about a project she was starting on gender and study abroad. I had participated in some international clubs in high school, Model United Nations, for example, and so Dr. Martin's project sparked my interest. She asked if I wanted to help her with it, to be a part of her research team, and I was awestruck. I stuttered back a, "Y-yes!" and from that point on I was an undergraduate researcher.

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{Sarah DeMartino (left) displays her research findings alongside her adviser, Assistant Professor of Psychology Daniela Martin.}
 
I was nervous at first as I hadn't had much experience with gender or psychology, but I learned quickly and those nerves dissipated. The one part of undergraduate research that I've always loved is how hands on it is; I've learned as I've worked, and although I started off with minimal knowledge, my understanding of the subject has grown immensely.
 
Undergraduate research has given me the opportunity to delve into a subject I wouldn't have otherwise explored. Heck, I didn't even know there was a field of study out there examining study abroad and gender. I've been given this wonderful opportunity to expand my passion for the international realm through a lens I never imagined existed.

Undergraduate research allows students to study what they are passionate about and to explore possible career options before they graduate. Will I continue to do this kind of research in my career? I'm not certain, but I've picked up skills and confidence I would not have gained otherwise. I've learned new technologies and programs used to sort and analyze data, for example, that I may not have had the opportunity to learn had I not become involved with research.

But what makes undergraduate research truly unique is that this work will be read, studied, cited, and built upon by other individuals. Knowing that the research will be directly contributing to a growing field of knowledge by sharing that work and collaborating on it with other people makes all the hard work worthwhile. Part of sharing that knowledge means going to conferences, and while it may seem nerve-wracking, attending such events is actually really fun and rewarding. Conferences allow researchers to meet and talk with other professionals working in that field. For me, that has always been one of my favorite parts of undergraduate research. I've always felt so excited to meet people interested in the same subjects that I am.

I have been to several conferences, one was Penn State Brandywine's EURECA (Exhibition of Undergraduate Research Enterprise and Creative Accomplishment). EURECA, which will be held this year on April 17, was especially important for me as I was not only sharing the research that Dr. Martin and I had been working on, but I was able to collaborate with my peers -- my fellow students. We had grown close as a group of research students. At EURECA we stood side by side, presenting, to our school, the projects in which we had all invested our time and effort. That atmosphere of camaraderie and support, I think, can only be found in events like EURECA.

EURECA also let me share my research with my Penn State community and give back what I had learned. The professors and students were quick to pose questions and delve into the work I was so passionate about. As a result of my EURECA presentation, I was then asked to present at the Penn State Eastern Regional Undergraduate Research Symposium, which will be held at the Brandywine campus on April 19, and so presenting at EURECA gave me the opportunity to showcase my research at an even bigger event. It opened a new door for me.

All in all, I not only recommend students get involved with undergraduate research, but also that they embrace sharing it at events like EURECA. Going to conferences is a key step in learning about the work other people do, perfecting one's own project, and building upon and sharing it with people. That, after all, is what knowledge is for.  

Penn State Brandywine will host this year's Penn State Eastern Regional Undergraduate Research Symposium on April 19 -- just two days after EURECA. Students with outstanding presentations at EURECA will be invited to present at the Symposium and compete against their peers for top awards. For more information about the Symposium, click here.

Students display and discuss their research findings at EURECA 2011:

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