This is the first post in a two-part series about a popular topic at Duke—undergraduate research. In state-of-the-art laboratories on Science Drive, many highly intelligent people are expanding the realm of human knowledge in fields like genomics, nanotechnology, and nuclear physics. And many of them are undergraduates. Duke has a whole office dedicated to supporting undergraduates in their research pursuits.
To see some specific examples of Duke’s cutting-edge research, check out at the Duke Research Blog. As you’ll gather from the diversity of topics on that site, when it comes to hands-on learning at Duke, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And I use that expression deliberately, because one of the ways is literally to skin a cat. That’s what I did in my Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy class, which has a weekly three-and-a-half hour lab often involving some sort of dissection.
If strapping on rubber gloves and cutting open a preserved animal isn’t really your thing, there are still plenty ways to do research as an undergraduate. For the remainder of this post, I’ll stick to opportunities in the sciences, and next time, I’ll get into social sciences and the humanities.
Personally, I’m interested in biology, and several summers ago, I participated in the Howard Hughes Research Fellows Program. I spent most of the summer in the Duke Forest, taking samples from trees to investigate growth. Every day, I would travel to a site in Chapel Hill (the Duke Forest is over 7000 acres, and parts of it are very far from campus), where I would twist a hollow rod into dozens of tree trunks to produce thin, cylindrical cores. From those cores, I could count the tree rings back in the lab.
During my foray into research, I learned a lot about scientific investigation. I learned that the tools you use to answer your questions are almost as important as the questions themselves, so the most innovative research often derives from the most innovative methods. And I learned that things do not always work out as smoothly as you would like. Equipment breaks, results are inconclusive, and everything seems to take longer than the time you set aside.
Though sometimes frustrating, these lessons show the value of doing research as an undergraduate. You can spend lecture after lecture learning about scientific concepts in the classroom, but you can’t truly understand science until you actively conduct it in the lab or in the field.
Due to the large number of pre-med students at Duke, biology is one of the most popular areas for undergraduate research, but most labs at Duke have undergraduates associated with them. Through summer fellowships, independent studies, and work-study positions, undergraduates are helping to make groundbreaking developments in just about every scientific field imaginable, and they’re learning a whole lot about the nature of science in the process.
Want to learn more? Watch this video to find out why research is so popular at Duke in a quick roundup at the 2011 undergraduate research showcase:
The views and opinions of the bloggers on this page are their own; they do not necessarily represent the views of the Undergraduate Admissions Office or of Duke University.