Research program sparks creativity, innovation

Students wondering whether getting involved in research is right for them, need help finding a faculty mentor or are looking for an outlet to present their findings can receive ready advice from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).

Located in Clough 205, the program assists students with gaining access to a variety of resources for getting started with research and turning it into a potential career.

UROP offers the Research Option (RO), an extensive thesis-based experience for students who are considering either a professional-track or graduate school. With it, they can develop a journal publication with a mentor or present their findings at a conference, with the RO also appearing on their transcripts.

“There’s practical value to the experience that students get out of research…they’re used to being in a classroom setting and their eyes kind of light up when they can apply what they’ve learned to a real-world setting out in the field with experts or in a lab with a team, dealing with current issues. Seeing that is really what drives me,” said Dr. Christopher Reaves, the Director for Undergraduate Research and Student Innovation.

UROP will be hosting its 8th annual Undergraduate Research Spring Symposium later in the semester, after having enjoyed a record number of participants last year. The Symposium is an opportunity for students to present their work, earn awards and prizes and gain the attention of people who can help take the project to the next level.

“You really haven’t done research unless you’ve presented it. This is a great way to share your work and get feedback, find people to collaborate with, take the project in a different direction or make it grander. The recognition is great as well, but even more important is being able to explain your research to someone who isn’t in your field and show them the value of your work,” Reaves said.

For students considering graduate school, taking the time and effort that research projects require during undergraduate studies can provide the foundation for the kind of work students go on to do as they pursue their Masters Degrees.

“There’s a laundry list of benefits that finding research opportunities can give undergraduates. Students who are involved in research tend to stay in school longer and are accepted to grad school more readily, have higher GPAs, are often more independent thinkers and can work better in teams as well,” Reaves said.

In addition to the opportunities that can set a student up for a career or graduate school, experiences like RO help students to determine if they enjoy the kind of work their field involves before they graduate with a degree.

“Going to conferences to present your work, maybe getting published and earning really good letters of recommendation are all great reasons to get involved in research now, but the main reason to get involved is to learn more, which is what happens constantly. It helps a lot of the time to confirm that someone’s in the right field and passionate about what they’re doing, and sometimes students find out that it’s really not what they want to do, which is fine too,” Reaves said.

When it comes to developing their projects, UROP considers it their charge to set students up with mentors both on campus and in the Atlanta area who can help them reach their potential. The program provides a variety of resources that can help students learn how to effectively pitch an idea or form a startup company from their research findings.

“Like I tell students, you are never going to have [so many] bright-minded and easily accessible people who just want to help you. You just have to take advantage of these opportunities to connect with them,” Reaves said.

One of the program’s main charges is also to coordinate resources for students to participate in competitions on campus throughout the year.
Promoted opportunities like the InVenture Prize can push students to think more innovatively and use their creativity to find their passions.

“I think that these opportunities to present and compete are a natural extension of research. After you’ve worked hard for your findings and you’re sharing them with the world, then it becomes easier to put that to practical use, if that means commercializing it, starting a non-profit or developing a service,” Reaves said.

UROP encourages students to remember that there is more to undergraduate studies than the mentality students often have of taking the right courses to graduate on time and get a job with the first company hiring, when research can give them the opportunity to be an inventor of their own career.

“We’re set up perfectly to help facilitate the research that starts the ideas and inventions that can have an impact on the world. The students are quite capable of doing it, and really the only thing that might hold them back is their will to pursue it,” Reaves said.

With the wealth of undergraduate research opportunities available on campus and facilitated by UROP, finding mentors to guide projects and give advice on publishing findings has become a relatively straightforward process. However, Reaves feels that it is the creative energy of the students that truly drives the program.

“We have brilliant students here, and our goal is to their work as visible as we can,” Reaves said.