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Undergrads becoming involved with research

Many students are aware that research is being conducted on campus, but are unaware of the connection that research has to them.

Students, including undergraduates, have the opportunity to work with researchers on a variety of projects. The Office of Undergraduate Research matches students with experienced mentors who guide them through the research process.

Naomi Yavneh, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research (UR), said positions are available in many subject areas.

“People think of science when they think of research, but there are many opportunities for research outside of science,” Yavneh said.

Projects currently listed on the UR Web site include work with the departments of chemistry, political science, women’s studies and psychology.

Ralph Reid, a sophomore majoring in microbiology and political science, began working as an undergraduate researcher early in the Spring semester. The project he is involved with uses statistical information to study female candidates for the Florida judiciary. The experience has been valuable, Reid said.

“The best benefit is that I’m getting a lot of experience,” Reid said. “It was an opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up.”

Students can get involved in research during their first year at USF, but most begin as a junior because a student’s schedule begins to have more flexibility during later years. Students who want to get involved in research should also possess a high level of maturity and dedication, Yavneh said.

“It helps to wait until the student has learned certain basic concepts that are often acquired during the first years of college,” Yavneh said. “Faculty members are going to expect a lot from students.”

Jeremy Yesudas, a freshman majoring in biology and international studies, works with a project that studies the human brain. He said the experience has been more valuable than he expected.

“It is awesome, way beyond my expectations,” Yesudas said. “With the 20 hours I have put in so far, I have learned more than what you learn in class.”

Participating in research allows students to interact with people who share their interests. This network of people can help guide students through their college career, Yesudas said.

Students can go to the UR USF Web site to begin the matching process to find a faculty mentor. The process is student driven and usually takes between two and six weeks.

Students and mentors develop a relationship that is unique to the pair. In some cases, the mentorship will last throughout the student’s college career, allowing the student to greatly benefit from the guidance of an experienced mentor.

For Katie Prosen, a junior majoring in microbiology, finding a mentor took a few months. She now works with a mentor who is collaborating on a project studying bioterrorism agent detection. Prosen works in the lab at least three days each week. She is also the secretary of the Undergraduate Research Board, a group that promotes undergrad research.

Research work can be time consuming, and sometimes interferes with other aspects of her life, Prosen said. She has had to stay in her part-time job because she cannot get a job that would require her to work during the weekdays. But, Prosen said, it is a sacrifice she is willing to make because she enjoys the work.

Opportunities for students to become involved in research are available throughout the year. UR USF conducts special research projects during the summer, allowing students to learn through research.

In April, UR USF will host its fifth annual Undergraduate Research Symposium and Celebration, where $8,000 in scholarships will be presented to students for their work on various research projects. But scholarships are not the only benefits conducting research can provide.

Students involved in research can receive up to three credit hours during the semester by obtaining approval through the Honors College or through the student’s major department, according to Brianne Slade, the administrative research associate for the Alcohol & Substance Abuse Use Research Institute.

Participating in research is a great addition to a résumé or a graduate school application and can provide students with experience and networking opportunities that could jumpstart a career, Slade said.

“Our research assistants have gone into many different fields. You don’t have to want to go into research to work as a research assistant. Any student in any major can benefit from conducting research,” Slade said.

Work done by students can range from scientific investigations in a lab to conducting interviews with children for behavioral research, Slade said.

Elisa McQueen knows first hand the benefits of participating in research projects as an undergraduate student at USF.

“All of the skills I have learned doing research have helped me to be more confident, and can only serve to make my goals more successful,” McQueen said.McQueen, a junior majoring in microbiology, began working with researchers during the spring semester of her freshman year on a project that studied chemotherapy-resistant prostate cancer. She is currently developing a thesis project related to fields that interest her.

“The research that I have been a part of so far has taught me many things, from learning a higher way of thinking, to understanding the real world application of everything that my classes are teaching me,” McQueen said.

As the president of the UR USF Undergraduate Research Board, McQueen works to get students involved in the research being conducted at USF. She said that all undergrads should know that working with researchers does not necessarily mean working in a laboratory.

“That there are so many different disciplines doing research at USF and that research is by no means limited to the biology, chemistry or engineering departments,” McQueen said.