“The fear of beginning, and of being too small to begin, is something that I have let disqualify me from many opportunities. I believe this experience was a lesson in being as big (or as small) as you make yourself. I know I will carry it with me for a very long time. Thank you.” – 2020 Summer URG Student
The Office of Undergraduate Research awards funding to hundreds of students each year; a majority of these students are engaged in independent research and creative projects where they learn project management skills that will support their post-college aspirations. Students learn how to explore a topic of significant interest in-depth: first, they learn to collect and interpret scholarly literature to frame a rationale around their research question, supported by expertise from faculty experts (inside and outside the university) to determine what gaps in their field of study need to be filled. Next, they learn how to develop a project and methodology that could potentially fill that gap, wrestling with the real world limitations of time and their current skill level. They learn how to write a competitive grant proposal (ultimately reviewed by multiple faculty across a range of disciplines) with iterative revisions based on feedback from faculty sponsors and OUR advisors. Once awarded, students learn that life rarely goes according to plan, even if the plan is meticulously constructed with expert advice. Consequently, they adjust and revise their projects, learning to be creative and determined, and show grit and imaginative resourcefulness. Finally, they learn to analyze and draw conclusions from their results and relevant findings. Many students render what they learned into papers and presentations to share their new knowledge with the broader world, whatever that may be.
We hope that in the process they discover magnificent things, but we know that the true value is in the experience itself. Confident in the process of knowledge acquisition, curated by thinking in terms of questions and how to answer them (instead of existing answers), students are now more prepared for the life ahead of them, whether that be graduate school, industry, non-profit work, creative artistry, or entrepreneurship. It is this process that makes undergraduate research such a high impact practice, and it is our emphasis on helping students to gain this experience that makes Northwestern an innovative and leading voice in this field.
Developing an approach to undergraduate research at Northwestern (and the formation of the Office of Undergraduate Research) centered on leveraging institutional strengths and using these to template new solutions in areas of need. Northwestern has a long tradition of supporting student research in lab environments; within labs and research groups, there is a supporting infrastructure to help students learn and develop. Students gain skills through the mentorship of faculty and graduate students, from conducting literature reviews to writing up results. However, outside of these environs, there was no clear path for students to engage in research. OUR was created to build a parallel infrastructure of support in non-lab/research group environments, seeking to enable and encourage students in all fields to pursue research. Northwestern strives to be a leader in supporting and funding students in non-lab/research group disciplines, and the results of this high impact practice on these students’ lives is tremendous.
The bedrock of all OUR programs is faculty review. At Northwestern, faculty review committees are empowered to make decisions based upon the merits of the student’s proposal. Applying rigorous standards as defined by the field of the student’s project, Northwestern works to ensure that all students with outstanding and qualified projects receive funding.
READ OUR REPORTS ABOUT WHERE WE STAND AND WHERE WE HOPE TO GO: