Viewpoint: Undergrad students should get involved with research

By Linda Nguyen

I am a firm believer that education happens just as much outside of the classroom as it happens within a classroom.

In college, the average student spends probably three to four hours in class a day. That leaves 20 hours a day where we’re left to our own devices.

Of course we have to eat, sleep and study, but those 20 or so hours also include the amount of time we spend on extracurriculars.

These extracurriculars can include clubs and organizations and athletics, but what many students don’t take into consideration is that time can also be put toward pursuing research in an area of interest to the individual student.

I stress research because I don’t think that we, as undergraduates at Baylor, are exposed to it very much.

I came from a high school based at the University of North Texas where research was highly stressed for my classmates and me, and it was a very interesting experience to say the least. It had passed that “tipping point,” as journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell would put it, where almost everyone was doing it. I hadn’t wanted to do research honestly, but I admit that I jumped on the bandwagon in order to compete with my other classmates. After all, why move to a school five hours away in order to continue being another face in a crowd of applicants?

Luckily, I found a wonderful research mentor in Dr. Fang Ling-Lu in the field of speech pathology. To an extent, I owe my love of research to her.

One of my classmates who later was a recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater scholarship described research as “being able to learn something that you would not be able to find in a textbook,” and I wholeheartedly agree.

Research opens the doors for students to learn something completely new and innovative, and what’s on the cutting edge of their respective fields. Besides, without research, we wouldn’t have half the discoveries that we’ve had.

Fast forward to the summer before my first year at Baylor.

I knew I wanted to continue doing research, but this time in a field more similar to what I wanted to study academically. I was also surprised at how little Baylor pushed research as an extracurricular for its students, particularly its freshmen.

I was more than blessed to have found another great research mentor in Dr. Wade Rowatt in the psychology department. Without his guidance, I would not have been able to explore my research interests with freedom and practicality.

With the establishment of organizations like Baylor Undergraduate Research in Science and Technology (BURST) and the increased emphasis of research in many student organizations, this is being combated, but it’s still fairly difficult for students to, in a sense, break into the field of research.

Very few professors will allow freshmen who have little to no experience in research into their labs, so how are they supposed to get started with it?

If someone is on the fence about it but is discouraged by the hassle to find a professor that actually accepts younger students, let alone in a field that they’re interested in, then there goes a potential Goldwater scholar or Fulbright recipient.

I honestly think the solution to this problem is two-fold.

One, students have to take the initiative to find and pursue research. Research is an integral part of an undergraduate experience, regardless of the field of study. Some professors do accept freshmen. Many do not, but the effort it takes to find a professor is well worth the benefits of pursuing research and building a relationship with your research mentor.

The second part of this solution is for professors to take risks with students.

A student who has worked in a particular lab for two or even three years is probably much more experienced in that particular area of research than a student who might have taken more classes but has no research experience.

So do research. Apply for a Fulbright, a Goldwater or whatever other prestigious research scholarship is out there. But at the same time enrich your undergraduate experience.

Find out what you genuinely like studying. See if you like it and if not, you’re only an undergrad.

Linda Nguyen is a senior neuroscience major from Missouri City, Texas. She is a staff writer for the Baylor Lariat.