What is Undergraduate Research, and Why is it Amazing?

Undergraduate research happens all over campus. In any department, students of any major, age, or career goals can be found researching. Berkeley is a unique place to be an undergraduate researcher because we are guaranteed to have some of the most accomplished faculty and promising graduate students in your field (regardless of what it is).

Girl in lab coat, face mask, and protective plastic apron
Me in my appropriate personal protective equipment for working with acids.

There are lots of different ways to find research positions on campus, but one of the most popular is URAP (the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program). URAP allows students to complete an application and be matched with faculty projects, while receiving academic units for their time. I found my current research position through URAP two years ago as an undeclared Freshman in FPF, which is proof that research isn’t always an exclusive club made just for upperclassmen. Some departments also sponsor paid research positions with stipends or work-study, and there are more scholarships for undergraduate research projects provided by Berkeley’s Office of Research & Undergraduate Scholarships (OURS).

Often students find research positions just by asking around. If you meet a professor or graduate student who mentions their research, and you think it’s cool, they’re often happy to tell you more about it during office hours! There is so much exciting work to be done, and oftentimes professors and GSIs are happy to exchange mentorship and a meaningful learning experience for help from an undergraduate.

Depending on what your interests are, research can look pretty different. As a Physical Geography major, research to me means camping out at lakes around Northern California to collect dirt samples. To my friends in

The tall side of an empty creek bed with scientists for scale
A sampling site near Mono Lake, CA

chemistry it means lab coats and safety glasses. For my friends in psychology it means interviewing kids, and to my friends in physics it involves coding complicated calibrations for laser systems. However, all of our experiences have a few elements in common.

The first thing I think we’ve all gained from undergraduate research is knowledge! Doing research forces you to ask questions which help you understand your work, and it forces you to learn. Secondly, at least for me, research has also been a major confidence boost. Even when I’m struggling in class or having a bad day, I can always find solace in a quiet hour spent with my headphones in at the microscope. Research is a very different type of learning experience than class, and I’ve come to sincerely appreciate how contributing to a long-term project makes me feel like a part of something bigger than studying for a midterm. Lastly, research is great for your resume. If you’re interested in graduate school it’s especially important, but other career paths count it as valuable work experience too. 

So if you’re interested in research, Berkeley is a great place to be. Now get out there and research!

A gloved hand holding a 50ml test tube out of it's rack
Handling samples in the fume hood
White circle with brown, three lobed shapes, on a black background
Conifer pollen. as seen through the microscope

Author: Violet

Hey, thanks for reading! I'm a Physical Geography major, Earth Science minor, Cal Ballroom dancer, an undergraduate researcher in the Quaternary Paleoecology Lab, Campus Ambassador, student co-op member, and a rising junior. I'm a born and bred Berkeley local and lover of backpacking, science, and nature.