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Undergraduate Research Opportunities Help Students Pursue Academic Excellence

Published on 9/30/2020 10:33:17 AM
By Rachel Sumang, Texas A&M University Office of Undergraduate Studies

Addie Bishop’s interest in research peaked after attending the annual LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Expo her freshman year. Now as a senior biology major, Bishop is researching a rare tick-borne illness called Babesiosis in the Texas A&M Ecological Systems Laboratory
 
Undergraduate research is a unique experience that creates meaningful opportunities for students to grow academically and personally. It builds their confidence, gives them purpose, reinforces classroom concepts, and informs their future. 
 
As director of the Aggie Research Program, Andrew McNeely has witnessed hundreds of undergraduates go through this process.
 
“Research doesn’t happen in a void; you work with and alongside others, learning from peers as well as leaders in your field. These dynamics can yield benefits on top of academic knowledge, such as networking opportunities, mentoring relationships, and diverse interpersonal experience,” said McNeely.
 
As an example, Bishop found that her involvement in research helped solidify the content she was learning in class. 
 
“I was taking introductory biology and chemistry courses, so my research allowed me to apply some of that knowledge to a subject that I was interested in, in a meaningful way,” Bishop says. 
 
And sophomore engineering major Mack Cleveland attributes research as playing a large role in his desire to attend graduate school.
 
“Undergraduate research was a big part of testing the waters and seeing would I be interested in pursuing graduate-level education to really deepen my understanding and to contribute to my knowledge,” Cleveland said.
 
These types of opportunities are created by offices like LAUNCH and the Aggie Research Program. While the two groups work closely together, the Aggie Research Program allows students to take on projects with an expert-led team, in contrast to the individual projects that LAUNCH participants complete. 
 
Students’ individual research projects are on full display during the annual Undergraduate Research Expo. This year, the expo will be held online September 29 to October 2 and is open to all.

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For faculty, graduate students, and administrative staff who conduct research, the expo is an avenue to recruit students. For undergraduates, the expo helps build their confidence by providing a space to present their research, attend workshops, and network, explains LAUNCH Program Coordinator, Annabelle Aymond. 
 
 “Slowly and secretly, it gives you confidence in your own voice and own writing,” Aymond said.
 
Both Cleveland and Bishop credit undergraduate research with inspiring the direction of their future and giving them a sense of purpose.
 
Since participating in the LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Program, Bishop has secured an internship with Rice University in the Texas Medical Center—further bolstering her confidence to pursue medical school.  

Cleveland will be hosting a panel at the expo about publishing research in LAUNCH’s student-driven scholarship journal, Explorations. More importantly, Cleveland believes that he is able to take part in something bigger than himself as a student researcher. 
 
“Research is about expanding that total scope of all the knowledge that we, as a civilization and society, possess. It’s an amazing opportunity as an undergrad to be able to contribute just to some small part somewhere to that sum total of human knowledge and to create new knowledge,” said Cleveland.

Media Contact: Anna Transue, transuea@tamu.edu

**Cover photo depicts the LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Expo from 2019, before the onset of COVID-19 and social distancing practices.