84% of CWRU undergraduate students are involved in research: What’s the big deal?

You’ve been slumped in the same chair for two hours now, eagerly waiting for your experiment to finish running. You could continue working on that paper, but truly, you have no focus—or will for that matter—left. Outside, the sun is shining for the first time in who knows how long—you haven’t been counting the days—and a group of friends are seemingly galloping their way across Cornell Road. They’re living a life of bliss and all you want is for tangible, significant results to materialize.

Sound familiar? During the darkest of times in research, it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re engaged in it in the first place. I bet it was incredibly exciting at first—the prospect of taking part in real-world developments and traversing into previously uninvestigated territory. But after a while, some may begin to ponder, “Perhaps I had over-glamorized it all; perhaps research, at least longitudinally, may not be worth it for me in the end.”

Yet, here we are. The statistics remain strong: According to the 2022 First Destination Survey, a whopping 83% of respondents indicated they were involved in research or a creative endeavor. As indicated on Case Western Reserve University’s Undergraduate Admissions site, 84% of undergraduate students are involved in research, with many students involved in it through their capstone experience. What does this tell us? First, fear not—you’re certainly not alone in this journey. But more glaringly, despite the complications and trials we may face, most of us continue on. All these revelations raise a few questions: What exactly is the inherent value students and faculty alike find in research? And is research really that important?

I talked to Sheila Pedigo, director of CWRU’s Undergraduate Research Office (URO), to obtain her insight: “The experience of being part of discovering something [and] developing new knowledge is in itself exciting. Research is always about creating new knowledge … That really is what research is,” Pedigo remarks. “The skills you develop are going to be helpful anywhere. Talking to people in and outside of the field [helps you develop] great communication skills,” not to mention “writing, working with other people, working on your own … all of these are just great skills to develop that will serve [college] students well.”

As CWRU students, we hold immense privilege. It’s paramount we understand that these unique opportunities aren’t available to most students in the nation. In hindsight, many students in the U.S. alone may find it challenging to engage with their education in ways CWRU allows us to be, especially in environments such as large state schools with a potential lack of individualized attention. Above all, we have access to one of the greatest resources: mentorship. Though the word “networking” may be employed more prominently by those seeking internships, it still applies to research from a holistic standpoint, perhaps with even greater opportunity for the mentor-mentee relationship to positively affect the student beyond their undergraduate studies. The staff at CWRU are here to help you—not just with your coursework but with your preparation for a career and/or post-graduation life. Their advice and guidance are indispensable and, as Pedigo affirmed, “you cannot overstate that relationship with your faculty mentor.”

What’s more, research teaches students to employ critical thinking skills and “introduc[es you] to your discipline,” an undertaking “that’s very different from the classroom experience,” Pedigo explains. The attributes and competencies required to be “successful” in research may be vastly distinct from what propelled you to flourish in the traditional university curriculum. What’s acquired through extensive involvement in research can’t be taught through a few lectures. It’s why the experience can distinguish you from someone else who looks exactly the same on paper—with an emphasis on “can,” as it’s ultimately what you take away from the experience rather than the experience itself.

Further, the concept of research productivity can be misleading. It’s a dreaded phrase among graduate program applicants and may even be enough to drive students away from pursuing a full-time career in research. In the midst of these negative connotations, and though it may seem counterintuitive, you’ll thank yourself later for going with your genuine passions rather than fixating on the number of posters or publications you could accumulate. Frankly, research isn’t meant to be a sprint. It would be unwise to expect concrete results simply because you were uncannily dedicated for a month or two. Comparatively, putting time and effort into a project you care about makes it a lot easier. After all, advancements in research aren’t dependent on your own will but rather the untreaded waters of the knowledge abyss. If we already knew everything there is to know, well, our educational endeavors would be quite lackluster. Pedigo encourages students currently struggling with research: “Everyone struggles with research … Students always tell me they’re surprised about how slow it goes. That’s part of the learning experience of undergraduate research … the recognition, the appreciation for and the respect for how slow the process can be; the patience that’s needed and the appreciation for people who do this day in and day out.”

Research is certainly not a requirement for every undergraduate student. There are so many facets of our education here at CWRU besides research that allow each and every one of us to hone in on our unique strengths and interests, such as musical ensembles, Teaching Licensures and Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities creative writing projects. Pedigo adds that “in terms of experiential education experiences, we have internships, co-ops, study abroad, civic engagement … Most CWRU students report that they participate in more than one experiential education experience!” However, for those who’ve had any sort of inclination to jump into research, you might want to give it a shot. Pedigo strongly suggests students new to research to “attend the All About Finding Research sessions” hosted by URO.

How many of the 84% can truly say they find research to be inextricably linked with their college education? It’s a question to ponder in relation to your own ventures, and, perhaps, in the context of CWRU as a whole. Do you want research to be something more? Or do you want to set your distance? Either way, taking the time to consider what role you want research to play in your professional life is worthwhile. Nonetheless, CWRU advocates for research because it encourages us to truly “think beyond the possible.” My personal opinion is this: Even if our motto hasn’t struck with you just yet, I can almost guarantee that research will open your eyes to the wonders of academia.

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