The first step in any research or creative project is figuring out what interests you. You probably have many interests that feel completely disconnected from each other. Not a problem. Think about what you’d like to learn.
Dig Some Trial Wells. Make Some Lists.
Explore all areas that interest you. We liken it to digging trial wells – you never know where you will truly strike oil (or water). Write down areas that you would like to explore further. Write down potential resources or connections that you may have. Then, compare the lists looking for intersections and overlaps – those connections are what you want to develop some more.
Leave your internal critic at home. If you want to learn more about something that interests you, be creative and persistent. Ask yourself hard questions about why this topic interests you and what you truly hope to learn.
Also, don't forget to consider the ethical implications involved in doing research, so you will want to consider these Principles of Ethical Research.
Talk to People
Once you have some ideas that you are excited about, it is time to find out more information. Find people who are interested in similar ideas, and ask them what they know (and what still needs to be known in this field).
Ask lots of questions, and gather lots of information. We are still not worried about a specific project at this point – we are focusing on figuring what is out there and what needs to be learned.
Talk to people who have taken classes in your areas of interest. Talk to people involved in student groups. Ask them what classes to take, what professors to talk with, and what they did to get started. Don’t reinvent the wheel; build on the knowledge that has come before you.
Tell your advisors about your interests and see what guidance they can offer. Talk to college/school advisors, departmental advisors, and professional advisors. They know a lot about resources and opportunities that you may never have known existed.
Don’t just look to the ones that you have had in class. Search Northwestern Scholars to find faculty who share your interests. Remember that there may be faculty working on topics you are interested in, in departments and research centers that are not immediately obvious to you.
Learn about Working with Faculty.
Librarians at Northwestern
Librarians can help you find and navigate databases to locate scholarly literature in your field. Exploring scholarly works can help you get the lay of the land, and discover potential holes that your research could fill.
People Outside Northwestern
Reach out to people at other institutions, non-profits, non-governmental organizations, businesses, museums.
Go Beyond Basic Internet Searches
Try scholarly databases, journalistic sites, think tanks, the library, and scholarly works. Look for a hole that your research could fill. Reading literature in your field will give you the lay of the land, and it will help you find potential holes that your research could fill. Look for things that still need to be done, and start to explore them.
Northwestern Scholars is a great place to find current literature, and research librarians can be a tremendous resource at this stage!
Browse Opportunities and Programs
Northwestern has numerous types of programs and groups for students interested in doing research. Finding the right program depends on what you want to do. This choice does not happen a single time; hopefully, it happens multiple times.
Ready For the Next Step?
Research where you work in a team using other people's equipment as part of a lab, a research group, or a design team: Find a Lab
Research where you mostly work by yourself using data or resources you gather yourself (this includes artistic and creative projects that will ultimately involve other people, such as playwriting or composing): Develop a Project
If you're looking for more strategies to support your developing interests or finding faculty doing interesting work, get added to our self-guided Canvas course. There, we can help you get started with the process and offer you appropriate resources for your field. To enroll, email email@example.com with your netID (xyz123 format), and we will add you. Reading through this content first can also help us have a more productive one-on-one follow up advising appointment.