Tips for Student Researchers FAQ

Welcome to this Frequently Asked Questions page. Click on questions below and read the answers. After each question is a link to a reference list page with related useful websites and articles.

What kinds of skills should I have before I start researching?

What have FHSU faculty members said about what skills student researchers should have?

How do I develop research skills?

What can I do that will help me see my research through to completion?

What are ethical research practices?

What can my faculty mentor teach me?

When do I need to report research problems to my mentor?

How can I keep effective records of my research?

What do I do if my research project is not working out for me?

How can my research experience help me get into graduate school?

How and when do I ask for letters of recommendation from my faculty mentor?

How do I put my research experience in a resume or curriculum vita?

What do I say about my research experience in future job interviews?

What if I have a hard time getting along with my research team?

What if I have a hard time getting along with my mentor?

What kinds of skills should I have before I start researching?

Your skills are like tools on your belt that you bring into a research project. To succeed, you should bring as many skills with you as you can. Perhaps the most important skill is a diligent work ethic. To succeed in research and creative scholarly projects,you must put in many hours of work. You must be thorough and good at keeping commitments. Can you handle repeating mundane tasks on a daily basis? That’s an important skill, too.

Other skills you should have areas follows:

·     Being on time and completing tasks on time

·     Using common sense

·     Expressing curiosity

·     Harboring a desire to learn and grow

Because you have to work with others, (your faculty mentor and research team members) you need good communication skills, as well. Projects can be easily derailed by personal conflicts. If you are good at working in groups and diffusing tense situations, you will probably have more success as a student researcher.  References

What skills do FHSU faculty members like student researchers to have?

In a survey conducted by the Undergraduate Research Experience at FHSU, faculty members revealed which skills they like to see in student researchers. Faculty members said that the most important skill for a student researcher to have is a demonstrated work ethic. The second most preferred skill is the capability of reviewing literature and analyzing appropriate sources. Also ranking high was emotional and academic maturity. They also prefer students who have completed a research methods course, although this is not applicable to all disciplines and situations. Some skill sets that ranked lower relative to preferred skills area high grade point average and basic library skills. 

How do I develop research skills?

Participating in creative or scholarly activities gives you the chance to gain valuable research skills. These skills include working persistently, asking questions that can be tested,working according to correct procedures, and confidently exploring possibilities. Other skills are problem solving, critical thinking, using creativity, and following role models. You develop these skills by being fully engaged in your research project.

Be willing to start out at the bottom, but don’t be satisfied staying there. When you’re new to a research or creative team, you may be asked to do the routine tasks like cleanup, paperwork,or running errands that no one else wants to do. Accept these tasks graciously and prove that you are reliable and responsible. After you have shown your faculty mentor that you can follow directions and finish small tasks, you will likely be given more important tasks. Be eager to take on new challenges and stretch yourself. Be daring.

At the same, listen to your faculty mentor and pay attention to what more experienced team members are doing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Collaboration with others can give you skills you might not get otherwise. As you gain more independence in the project, never forget that your mentor can always teach you more. References 

What can I do that will help me see my research through to completion?

Good research practices can help you to see a project through to completion. Good practices start with effective communication between you and your faculty mentor. You must understand what is required of you and how your mentor expects you to go about accomplishing it. Regular meetings with your mentor facilitate this kind of communication. Meetings don’t have to be face to face, since many virtual students conduct research over the Internet. What’s important is that you and your mentor are communicating often.

Be flexible. Your mentor may ask you to change the way you are doing things or you may have to periodically switch your research focus. Accept these occurrences and continue working hard. Also, try to be tolerant of the personalities of the people you work with. Of course, they will sometimes irritate you, but remember that you can learn a great deal from people who are different from you.

Finally, commit yourself fully to your project. Be willing to stick with it until the end. Realize that you will have difficulties. You also learn from figuring out how to overcome them. The rewards of your experience will make it worthwhile.  References

What are ethical research practices?

When you are conducting research,you want your practices to be ethical. That means your actions should be legal and in accordance with FHSU’s policies. When collecting data, you must be honest about where all of your information comes from. Record what your sources are and make sure to give them credit. When you work with others, see that each person involved also gets credit for the work performed. It’s not fair to give yourself credit for the work performed by others or for others to receive credit for your work. Keeping meticulous records is a good way to keep track of everyone’s contributions.

You must be completely honest when you document research findings as well. Never guess when you can give exact numbers. Never present false data to make yourself look good or to make your project appear successful. Doing so actually invalidates research findings. You risk destroying your reputation, that or your mentor, and the reputation of the university.

Special considerations must be given to research that involves human or animal test subjects. Make sure that your research doesn’t harm people or animals. If you see anyone on your research team doing anything that harms test subjects, report it immediately to your mentor or your advisor.

Conflicts of interest can lead to unethical practices. You might feel pressure to make an unethical choice that will benefit someone you know, or you might be more concerned about making money from your research than the integrity of the project. If you foresee any conflicts of interest, be completely transparent and immediately discuss them with your faculty mentor.  In some cases, you may need to discontinue your participation in the project. References  

What can my faculty mentor teach me?

Your mentor can teach you a great deal besides research skills. He or she can teach you about your discipline and the specific scholarly processes within your discipline. Working with a mentor is an opportunity to learn how to apply your curiosity to solving a problem. With guidance, you learn in depth about where to go, who to ask, and what to do to succeed. Learn about how your mentor makes decisions regarding research problems. Your mentor is a good resource for guidance regarding how to speak,dress, and present your findings. Also, working with a mentor can help you to answer the question of whether a certain discipline or line of work is what you really want to do.

When do I need to report research problems to my mentor?

You never know when your best efforts are going to go wrong. You might not have enough information to carryout your tasks. You might not be receiving enough guidance from your mentor. Maybe all is not well with your research team or you do not have materials you need. Whatever the problem, your faculty mentor is there to help you. But when you should ask for help depends on the situation.

You don’t want to go running to your mentor too often. Doing so can make you seem incompetent and unwilling to think for yourself. Unless the issue is a matter requiring immediate attention,you should probably try to figure out how to solve it on your own first. Brainstorm what’s going wrong and try to figure out what you can do to turn the situation around. If your attempts fail, then you should go to your mentor and explain your difficulties and what you have tried so far. Your mentor can then guide you to better solutions. If safety is a concern, however, do not wait to talk to your mentor immediately.

Working with your mentor to solve  problems helps you to develop collaborative skills. When you put your heads together, you can probably think of more ideas than either or you would alone. Researching with a faculty mentor is also an opportunity to learn from an expert who can teach you how to navigate through problems. References

How can I keep effective records of my research?

The kind of records you must keep as part of your project may be simple or complex. Your records probably include a log of your work. At very least, you must write the date and the hours you work. Standard logs also include a short description of work performed. In that case, you are required to write something like, “I read the ethical research standards pamphlet.” In other cases, you might have to keep much more detailed records.

Some good general practices can help you with effective record-keeping. First, make sure that you record relevant data as soon as you can. Don’t wait until the next week and then try to remember. If you need to record specific observations or numbers, keep your record book open with a pen ready. Make sure you label all information correctly so that others can look at your records and understand. Record who was involved and how they contributed. Be completely honest about what you have done, what you observe, and how much time a task has taken, even if this information might make you look bad. Never knowingly falsify records. Be thorough and consistent and follow the record guidelines set for your by your faculty mentor.References

What do I do if my research project is not working out for me?

You might feel that your research project is not working out for many different reasons. Maybe you are failing to prove a hypothesis or to complete a creative project despite much effort. Maybe you are too busy to put enough time into your research. You might have personal conflicts with your mentor or your group members. Whatever the problem, you must decide how the situation can be repaired and if your best option is to leave the project. As a general rule, you should always try to correct problems before abandoning your obligations.

Your faculty mentor is there to help you work through various difficulties that arise. He or she is your first and best resource. Be clear and direct when discussing problems. Don’t whine or beg for special treatment. When complaining about another person, talk about the person’s behavior rather than their personality. Don’t call them names or speak of them negatively. When you put other down, you usually make yourself look much worse than the person you’re making fun of. Demonstrate your willingness to compromise by changing your procedures when asked to do so. If the problem stems from you (your own laziness or inflexibility) correct your behavior obligingly. Before you leave a project, do all you can to find solutions.

If you have already tried to remedy problems but still want to leave a project, be as professional as you can about it. Give your mentor adequate notice and make the transition as painless as possible by turning over all research materials. Even if your mentor has been difficult to work with, keep your dealings civil and polite. You may need to go to your advisor or the head of the department to find someone to act as mediator between you and your mentor. References

How can my research experience help me get into graduate school?

Most graduate programs center around research. If you go to graduate school, you will be engaged in research/scholarly/creative activities and will be contributing to your field. Some graduate students receive fellowship grants to help pay for school. You get fellowship grants to work with a professor conducting research. That’s why having research experience might make it easier for you to get into graduate school. If you have conducted research as an undergraduate, your faculty advisor can write a letter or recommendation for you. The close relationship you build as you work with your mentor will help him or her write a personal glowing letter about your research abilities. References  

How and when do I ask for letters of recommendation from my faculty mentor?

When you apply for graduate school or a real job, you need letters of recommendation from professionals. As a student researcher, you have a unique opportunity to develop a close professional relationship with your mentor. Having worked with you for several months, your mentor can be a great person to write you a crucial letter of recommendation. When you ask for a letter, though, remember to make the process easy for your mentor.

You can make the process easy by getting started as early as you can. At least three weeks before your letters of recommendation are due, ask your mentor to write one for you. It’s best to ask in person if you can. Be polite and drop by during your mentor’s regular office hours. If you cannot talk in person, it’s acceptable to ask through email. Your email must be professional and direct. In the first paragraph, get right to the point. If your mentor is not able or willing to write a letter for you, let it go and find someone else. Never try to force anyone. Keep in mind that faculty are very busy at the time you may be requesting a letter.

After your mentor has agreed to write your letter, be as helpful as you can. Collect materials your mentor will need, including your curriculum vita and information about where to send the letter. If you want the letter to discuss your specific skills or traits, make a list of those for your mentor. But don’t be too pushy about this. You want the letter to sound sincere, not forced.

Follow up by reminding your mentor when the letter of recommendation is due and then sending a thank you card. Writing you a letter or recommendation is a huge favor, and you want to express your gratitude. You also want to keep your relationship strong so that you can maintain your mentor as a professional contact.  References

How do I put my research experience in a resume or curriculum vita?

Resumes and curriculum vitae have similar functions and formats, although you will need them for different purposes. You will give a resume to potential employers in hopes of getting a job. Your resume must contain a record of your education, your work experience,and any other activities that may be of interest to your future employer. Research experience is great to put on a resume because it gives you a chance to list the skills you have gained. A curriculum vita (called a CV) is similar to a resume, but you include more information about your education such as the specific classes you took and what you learned in them. You usually turn in a CV with a graduate school application and with job applications in the academic field. If you are applying to work at a research lab, your CV might be a particularly useful way for you to show off your knowledge.

On a CV or resume, you can make research experience its own category. List the name of the project, the dates when you started working on a project and when you finished, and all of the relevant skills you have gained from researching. Remember to tailor your CV or resume to the specific context. That means emphasizing the parts of your research that most directly apply to the job or program that you are trying to get into. References

What do I say about my research experience in future job interviews?

The subject of your research experience may not come up naturally in a job interview unless the job you are applying for is directly related to research or academia. In that case, don’t hesitate to tell your interviewer about your research. Explain briefly and in simple language what the project was about and how you accomplished it. Touch on your duties and what you learned. Try to make it clear how the skills you gained from researching are directly applicable to the job. If your interviewer doesn’t ask you about research experience, you can still bring it up at an appropriate time. You might be asked about experience outside of a work environment, or you might be asked if there is anything else you’d like to add. However you can introduce it. Talking about your research experience can strengthen your interview. Of course, you should never act arrogant or conceited, and you should never interrupt your interviewer. Present yourself in the most professional light possible.References

What if I have a hard time getting along with my mentor?

Your faculty mentor is a human being, just like you are. The two of you might have problems. Difficulties in getting along can stem from differences of opinion, personality conflicts, or complicated situations. If you have already invested a great deal of time and energy into your project, you most likely want to stay with your mentor unless the situation is dire. If you have received funding from the university, you are under more pressure to finish a project. Chances are, you can improve relations with your mentor with a little work.

Your mentor might be unhappy with you because you have not completed work. Some self-assessment might help you realize that you might be part of the problem. What is your role in the conflict? Can you change your behavior to make it right? Take an honest look at your conduct to make sure you are not the source of the problem.

Be assertive but respectful. Directly address the problem with your mentor. Maybe he or she doesn’t realize how you feel. Don’t take it personally if your mentor wants you to make some changes. Remember that you are being mentored for a reason. Your mentor knows more than you do and has much more experience. A little humility and willingness to be flexible on your part can go a long way in greasing the wheels of your relationship.

In some situations, the conflicts between a student researcher and faculty mentor can lead to the end of a project or a student leaving a project. If you think this might be the best solution, discuss it with your faculty advisor. Make sure you understand the repercussions of leaving. References

What if I have a hard time getting along with my research team?

If you are working with a research team, you might have conflicts with your team members. You might disagree about how tasks should be completed or what is required of you. Your team members might be less knowledgeable than you are or less experienced. Or they might be more advanced than you. Maybe you feel that you are doing all the work. Conflicts within groups are common. If left unchecked, they can stop your research or creative project right in its tracks.

Going to your faculty mentor for help might seem like tattle-telling, so use discretion and try to work it out with your team members first. Address problems directly and be willing to compromise. Take criticism graciously, whether you agree with it or not. Try to defuse tense situations before they become destructive. Apologize when someone is upset and ask what you can do to help.

Some team members may be unwilling to compromise. When you have tried working out conflicts unsuccessfully,you should then talk to your faculty mentor and explain what has been going on. Your mentor will deal with the conflict in the way that works best within the framework of the project and with the individuals involved. References

Tips for Undergraduate Research FAQ Resource Link Page

What kinds of basic skills should I have before I participate in research?

Ernst, Michael. University of Washington. “Tips for Interviewing Undergraduates for Research.”Last accessed April 2, 2012. http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/mernst/advice/interviewing-undergraduates.html.

WebGuru. Northeastern University. “Being an Effective Team Member.” Last accessed April2, 2012. http://www.webguru.neu.edu/professionalism/professionalism/being-effective-team-member.

WebGuru. Northeastern University. “Undergraduate Research.” Last accessed April 2, 2012.http://www.webguru.neu.edu/book/export/html/2.

How do I develop research skills? 

Gubbins, Sarah;Colm Harmon and Liam Delaney. UCD Geary Institute. “Undergraduate Research Experiences: Benefits and Good Practice.” Irish Universities Study. April 19, 2008.

http://www.studyskills.soton.ac.uk/develop.htm

What can I do that will help me see my research through to completion? 

CRLS Research Guide. Cambridge Rindge & Latin School. “Basic Steps to Creating a Research Project.” Last accessed April 2, 2012. http://www.crlsresearchguide.org/.

Hutchinson, Paul. “How to do Research Advice.” Last accessed April 2, 2012. http://www.angelfire.com/biz/rumsby/ARES.html.

What are ethical research practices? 

McGinn, Michelle;Sandra Bosacki. Forum: Quantitative Social Research. “Research Ethics and Practitioners: Concerns and Strategies for Novice Researchers Engaged in Graduate Education.” Last accessed April 3, 2012. http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/615/1333.

Office of Research Integrity. University of Pittsburgh. “Guidelines for Responsible Conduct of Research. Last accessed April 3, 2012. http://www.provost.pitt.edu/documents/GUIDELINES%20FOR%20ETHICAL%20PRACTICES%20IN%20RESEARCH-FINALrevised2-March%202011.pdf.

Oxford Learning Institute. University of Oxford. “Integrity and Ethical Practice in the Conduct of Research.” Last accessed April 3, 2012. http://www.learning.ox.ac.uk/supervision/stages/ethics/.

When do I need to report research problems to my mentor? 

Can you Digg it?“Common Problems with Research Projects.” Last accessed April 3, 2012.  http://sites.google.com/site/canyoudiggresearch/home/common-problems-with-research-projects.

Bradley, Raymond. JSTOR. “Ethical Problems in Team Research: a Structural Analysis and an Agenda for Resolution.” The American Sociologist.17. 2 (1982) 87-94. Last accessed April 3, 2012. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/27702502?uid=3739672&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21100691573311.

How can I do to keep effective records of my research? 

East Carolina University. “Best Practices for Academic Research Record Keeping.” Last accessed April 3, 2012. www.research2.ecu.edu/BestPractices_Sep04.doc.

Hamon, Carole;Danna Carver. Research Support and Regulatory Affairs. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “Research Record keeping.” Last accessed April 3, 2012. www.uams.edu/rsra/Slides/Research%20Recordkeeping%20.ppt.

What do I do if my research project is not working out for me? 

Ask MetaFilter.“Graciously Backing Out of an Undergraduate Research Position.” Last accessed April 4, 2012. http://ask.metafilter.com/180867/Graciously-Backing-Out-of-an-Undergraduate-Research-Position.

Chew, Mark. University of California Berkeley. “Tips for Undergraduate Researchers.” Last accessed April 4, 2012. http://robotics.eecs.berkeley.edu/~pister/etc/urtips.html.

WebGuru. Northeastern University. “Professionalism.” Last accessed April 4, 2012. http://www.webguru.neu.edu/book/export/html/18.

How can my research experience help me get into graduate school? 

Agre, Phil. University of California Los Angeles. “Advice for Undergraduates Considering Graduate School.” Last accessed April 4, 2012. http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/pagre/grad-school.html.

Graduate School Tips.“Tips for Getting into Graduate School.” Last accessed April 4, 2012. http://www.gradschooltips.com/tips.htm.

Kwan, Angela. Experience. “Your Guide to Getting into Grad School.” Last accessed April 4,2012. http://www.experience.com/alumnus/article?channel_id=advanced_degree_development&source_page=home&article_id=article_1207599241447.

How and when do I ask for letters if recommendation from my faculty mentor? 

Irish, Marian. WikiHow. “How to Ask your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation via Email.”Last accessed April 4, 2012. http://www.wikihow.com/Ask-Your-Professor-for-a-Letter-of-Recommendation-Via-Email.

Kuther, Tara. About. “Twelve Don’ts for Getting Letters of Recommendation.” Last accessed April 4, 2012. http://gradschool.about.com/od/askingforletters/a/letternottodo.htm.

Jackson, M. Dennis. Gradschools. “How to Get the Best Recommendation Letters for Grad School.” Last accessed April 4, 2012. http://www.gradschools.com/article-detail/getting-recommendations-116.

How do I put my research experience in a resume or curriculum vita? 

Doyle, Alison. About. “Writing Curriculum Vitae.” Last accessed April 4, 2012. http://jobsearch.about.com/cs/curriculumvitae/a/curriculumvitae.htm.

HubPages. “How to Write a Good CV.” Last accessed April 5, 2012. http://mudasir.hubpages.com/hub/cv-resume.

Trinity College.“Write a Resume.” Last accessed April 5, 2012. http://offices.trincoll.edu/depts_career/guides/resume.shtml.

What do I say about my research experience in future job interviews? 

Fort Hays State University. “Interview Resources.” Last accessed April 5, 2012. http://www.fhsu.edu/career/interview/.

Giordano, Louise. Quintessential Careers. “The Ultimate Guide to Job Interview Preparation. Last accessed April 5, 2012. http://www.quintcareers.com/job_interview_preparation.html.

Net Places.“Skills and Experience.” Last accessed April 5, 2012. http://www.netplaces.com/job-interview/skills-and-experience/.

What if I have a hard time getting along with my mentor? 

Elliot, Michael.K2Campus. “Working Successfully you’re your Thesis or Dissertation Advisor.” Last accessed April 5, 2012.

Rackham Graduate School. University of Michigan. “How to Get the Mentoring you want: a Guide for Graduate Students.” Last accessed April 5, 2012. http://www.rackham.umich.edu/downloads/publications/mentoring.pdf.

Stanford University. “Developing a Positive Working Relationship with Your Faculty Mentor.” Last accessed April 5, 2012.

What if I have a hard time getting along with my research team? 

Beyea, Suzanne;Leslie H. Nicoll. Life and Health Library. Find Articles. “Working in Teams the Key to Successful Research Projects.” Last accessed April 5, 2012. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FSL/is_1998_Nov/ai_53268445/.

Gallo, Amy. Harvard Business Review Blog Network. You’re your Team to Stop Fighting and Start Working.” Last accessed April 5, 2012. http://blogs.hbr.org/hmu/2010/06/get-your-team-to-stop-fighting.html.

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