Thursday, June 11, 2015

So You Want To Do Research...

Nobel Laureate Albert Szent-Gyorgyi once said, “Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.” When I was looking at colleges to attend, research opportunities for undergraduates was one of my top priorities. I had done science fair projects throughout both middle high school—from dead snails to dying sunflowers—and was excited to expand my research horizons at a University (my parents were also excited to reclaim the dining room table and garage, both of which had been taken over by strange contraptions and even stranger smells).

 Throwback to tenth grade when I drilled a hole in the dining room table. Sorry, mom!
I was elated to find that over 60% of students at UVA are involved in research of some kind! While many consider research to be strictly for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, my short time at UVA has already revealed the plethora of research opportunities available to all majors—STEM or otherwise! UVA was awarded $285 million for research in 2015; of that, $187 million is from the federal government (“Research by the Numbers”, 2015). This total research is split between all schools and disciplines at UVA, with the majority (57%) going to the School of Medicine.

It would be almost impossible to list all of the research currently being conducted at the University. However, I can confirm from my research on research (*insert laughter*) that it is varied in scope and content. For instance, the Alderman Scholars’ Lab is combining technology and the humanities to conduct research into fields such as Art History, Classics, and English! Across Grounds, researchers at the Curry School of Education are analyzing various aspects of student-teacher interactions in addition to conducting research on sports injuries and exercise physiology. Furthermore, the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department has several projects currently underway with NASA.

The Alderman Scholars' Lab is an interdisciplinary study and research space available to all students
These are just several of the MANY projects being conducted at the University. For more information, feel free to check out UVA’s Center for Undergraduate Excellence, which has a plethora of information on various ways to get involved in research at UVA, as well UVA’s Office of the Vice President for Research. In keeping with UVA’s spirit of student self-governance, we also have several student-run organizations dedicated to the promotion of research, including several internal undergraduate research journals. The pinnacle organization is the Undergraduate Research Network, an umbrella group aimed at enriching the undergraduate research experience through workshops on how to get involved, grant writing assistance, and showcases for various student projects.
As for my personal experience with research at UVA, I have found professors are very receptive to undergraduate students who are interested in research. Like I said before, I knew coming in that I wanted to do research—however, I had no idea what field. I emailed a few different professors in various fields, expecting one or two to respond. I was thrilled when all responded, and even more so when they invited me to tour their labs! While I ended up only choosing one, the amount I learned talking to the different professors about their research is one of my favorite memories I have so far at UVA.

As one of my favorite teachers* once said, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” At UVA, research is the ultimate venue to do these things—to take a step out of your comfort zone and try something new and unfamiliar! We have a multitude of ways for you to get involved in research, no matter your experience, prior knowledge, year, or major—the only requirement is a willingness to learn and a passion for innovation. Who knows…you may make the next big discovery.
So what are you waiting for?

Catherine Pollack is a rising second year biomedical engineering and cognitive science double major. She has competed in science fairs around the country since sixth grade, including the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and International Sustainable World Energy, Environmental, and Engineering Project Olympiad (I-SWEEEP). Her projects have varied in scope, including a three-year long analysis on various aspects of a Mediator-Less Microbial Fuel Cell. She has also recently been a judge at several Virginia regional and state science fairs. She is currently working with a team at the UVA Center for Applied Biomechanics. She loves talking about research, and would love to talk to you if you have any questions or concerns (her email is

*Does Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus count? I think so. J

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