I'm a huge advocate of undergraduate research. Now, you're probably asking, "Why would I ever go into undergraduate research? I don't want to be a professor. Why would I want to go to grad school with an engineer's salary? No more school! I don't want to go into R&D. I don't know enough about a subject." I've heard ALL of the excuses- I was there about 3 years ago. So here are my top 10 reasons of why YOU should do undergraduate research.
1. Get GREAT letters of recommendations from professors. You're going to need letters of rec regardless of where you go (unless you graduate and go sit on the couch). If you do work for them, they'll actually find out how motivated and awesome you are, and this will enable them to write a very extensive letter about YOU.
2. Learn about what graduate school is really like. I knew a lot about graduate school before I started research, but you get to interact with graduate students. Grad school isn't all school (as many think). It involves writing, experiments, code, and a ton of interacting with other students and professors. It's definitely not a task for the weary, but you may find that graduate school is actually for you.
3. Learn about an in-depth subject. I knew nothing about materials when I started in the Material Performance Laboratory. I've gained more knowledge from cleaning and sanding down samples for endless hours, rather than hear my professor talk about the mechanical capabilities of his car. I've been able to see stress-strain curves develop before my eyes, and I've helped to solve problems on the go! There's now a TON I know about the cyclic stresses on an airplane, and every time I take a flight somewhere, I explain to them about the material stresses on the cabin!
4. Rule out things you don't like. I've realized a lot about what I want and DON'T want in graduate school or, even, in the working world. This is a very harm-free way of doing this.
5. Have something on your resume. The economy's tough right now. It's very difficult to get internships, especially if you are a freshman or sophomore. Sure, you probably won't get paid. But this will be a GREAT way to get engineering experience and contacts with little risk.
6. It's possible to get Technical Elective credit. One less class I have to take? Sign me up!
7. Get your hands dirty. I used to love coming out of the lab with grease on my hands. I felt like I actually accomplished something and be one of the few students that can actually use tools.
8. Get mistaken for a graduate student. There have been many instances where I've been mistaken for a graduate student. It makes you feel very confident about your work (even though you probably don't know much), and other students look up to you! Another perk: free coffee at the Graduate Student Union- don't worry, I was invited, and nobody could tell the difference.
9. Have something to talk about. Many engineering students ramble on about this lab report or this code or that professor. Be excited about your research, and other people will get excited around you. It definitely is a change of pace from the day-to-day routine.
10. Present or publish your research before you graduate! Employers absolutely love to see that you can speak in public. It's not what you said. It's how many people you spoke to at once. Also, who wouldn't want their name all over a paper! Sure, you may not think it's a big deal, but graduate schools and employers LOVE to see that you can communicate effectively.
Now that I got you excited about undergraduate research, I will post about how to obtain a research position in the near future.