What is research and why should I care?
What is it?
Research is all about asking questions and finding answers. Research is diving into a topic you are interested in and learning more about it. Research happens in all majors but you don’t even have to do research in your major. You can explore almost anything that you are interested in!
Can you give me an example?
Sure! Check out the award database here.
- Try a keyword like music, cancer, or biolog (with the partial word you will pull up biology AND biological)
- Choose a campus THEN select a major, department, or college
Why should I?
‘cuz it’s GREAT and...
- Gain real-world experience - very important for employers
- Build your resume for the workplace or for graduate or professional school
- Work closely with faculty - learn about career options and get recommendations
- Strengthen applications for competitive scholarships and fellowships
- Improve skills and abilities for future success (communication, critical and creative thinking, etc.)
- Research can pay! Spend your time earning money and getting experience in your field
- Not sure about your major? Research can let you try out a field of study.
- Combine research with study abroad, internships, practica, service, and more - get the most out of your experience!
When should I?
The earlier the better for getting started! Start thinking about research as early as your first semester. Not only does research give you an opportunity to work with faculty, but it also lets you test drive a career.
Common research MYTHS
Research is only for juniors and seniors...
NO! You can start your first semester of college (the earlier the better).
You can only conduct research in your major...
NO! You can research any area you are interested in.
You have to have your own “earth-shattering” idea, in order to do research...
NO! MOST students work on a research question developed by their faculty mentor. Even if you come up with your own question to study, it doesn’t have to “change the world,” just be interesting to you.
Research means LOTS of papers and writing...
NO! It’s a hands-on experience where you test-drive a career.
Research is just for scientists...
NO! It’s for all majors (art, music, history, education, business, and the list goes on and on).
Research is only for honors students...
NO! Research is for everyone!
Research contracts: What, why, & how
- A research contract is a document that you create with your mentor that describes the project, tasks for project completion, expectations, deadlines, etc.
- Know up-front what is expected of you, how to get help with questions, and more
- Open communication with your mentor from the start
- You can use this document OR modify it to fit your needs
- Make a contract early - as early as the first week or so, to reduce misunderstandings and get started on the right foot
- You, as the student, can write the first draft based on your understandings of the project
- Be flexible - how much detail do you need, remember that milestones change and that research does not always accommodate schedules
- Review the contract often to make sure your know what needs to be done when; edit and ask questions when needed
Communicating with your mentor
- Decide how much of your personal or family life you want to share with your mentor. You set the boundaries on what you do or do not share with your mentor.
- Ask your mentor about his/her journey - How did your mentor get to where he/she is today? Ask about lessons learned, advice, etc.
- Keep you mentor informed of your academic progress or any difficulties you have encountered.
- Talk to your mentor about career options, especially if you are questioning your path.
Establish a working relationship
- Consider a research contract. See above!
- Set a schedule or expectations for regular meetings.
- Allow sufficient time to ask questions and discuss issues openly.
- Arrive promptly to all appointments and don’t cancel meetings.
- Send a confirmation email to your mentor the week of the meeting.
- Make a list of your questions for your meetings, so you don’t forget.
- Have a specific, written agenda for each meeting with your mentor.
- Bring a notebook so that you can write down all of your mentor’s advice.
- Throughout your research process, record the progress that you have made and share this with your mentor so he or she can determine exactly where you are in your journey.
- Wrap up your meeting with some of your personal goals to accomplish before your next one-on-one meeting.
Keep an open mind
- Focus on how much you have to gain. Having someone watching, discussing, and analyzing your work can be unnerving. Try to push your self-doubt aside and concentrate on how much you'll learn.
- Acknowledge and explore your differences, and try to understand different points of view.
- Openness and non-defensiveness are two key attributes for getting the most out of feedback from your mentor.
Ask for help when you need it
- Respectfully let your mentor know when you don’t understand a concept.
- It’s better to ask your mentor to clarify than to make assumptions that could lead to a mistake.
Make the most of your mentor
- If you're not sure how a mentor can be useful, ask questions.
- Voice your concerns. If something about the mentoring process concerns you, talk about it.
- Mentors want to help, so let them know how they can.
- Give mentors the time to respond to your email. They are on a different schedule than students.
- If problems persist, get advice from a third party - meet with an advisor in OUR to discuss the situation.
- Changing mentors is possible - but it should be the last resort.
Research & academic credit
Yes you can get course credit to do research through an independent study. Some majors even require it!
- An independent study is a “class” that you develop WITH your faculty instructor (or research mentor)
- It ranges from 1-3 credits and generally requires 6-12 hours of work each week (this varies and the timing is flexible in scheduling)
- It is a graded course, so you might have to submit something like a paper or report or make a presentation so that your prof has something to grade but again this varies and is decided between you and your mentor
- Already working on a project with a mentor? Ask your mentor if he/she is willing to supervise an independent study for you
- Talk with your advisor
- You and your mentor will need to complete an independent study form
Independent study not what you are looking for? Some courses have a significant hands-on component. Talk with your advisor, research mentor, or current/past professors for options.
Abstracts, posters, & presentations: How to
Poster creation & presenting
Oral presentations & powerpoint
I've been doing research - now what??
- Apply for a national fellowship! Student researchers WIN more often!!! Get BIG bucks $$$ - most are for grad school, some for travel, research, etc. Find out more...
- Apply for an award
- Publish your work - see more here
- Present your work - see more here
- Market your research experience on your resume. Talk with a Career Center advisor and check out these web resources
Call (803) 777-1141
Drop-in Legare College suite 120
Know your Research Rights, Responsibilities, and Resources
Have questions? Need help? Not sure whats going on or who to ask?
Here are some resources that may help you navigate your research journey.
This is for everyone, share it with your fellow researchers!
This document provides guidance on your rights and responsibilities as well as some handy resources (research and academic). There is a version for each USC Campus below.
If you ever need assistance or support, or have a question or concern about something that is happening, PLEASE contact us so we can do our best to help (803-777-1141; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Please note: Gender discrimination and sexual harassment are not tolerated at the University of South Carolina. Please see policy EOP 1.02 for further information.
For NSF funded projects, please see NSF.gov/harassment.