What is Research?
Research provides an inquiry-based learning opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge learned in the classroom to a systematic investigation of a significant question or creative endeavor. Working collaboratively with a faculty member, you will begin to understand the background of a question or creative endeavor and start to develop the tools to study it in more depth. This process might involve reading the scientific or scholarly literature of the discipline, developing laboratory and data acquisition skills, and expanding expertise in interpretation, analysis, and creativity.
Why do Research?
Working on a research or creative endeavor encourages you to expand your cognitive powers, experience the accomplishments and pitfalls inherent to the creative process, develop an understanding of how ambiguity permeates our world and our work, gain insight into how knowledge evolves, and ideally add your own contribution.
Doing research should also build advanced problem-solving skills that may be applied toward a range of future goals. These skills and the accomplishment of your Honors Thesis might enhance your ability to gain admission to graduate school or impress potential employers. Cultivating close mentoring relationships with faculty members should enable them to know your work well enough to write thoughtful and detailed letters of recommendation.
Get to Know Faculty
There are many long-term advantages of getting to know your professors and other faculty members. Staff members, including advisors and librarians, may also be open to developing a mentoring relationship and can help to support your efforts and find resources. Getting to know faculty can help you:
- Develop an independent research project or independent study.
- Learn about opportunities to work in their lab or studio.
- Gain a more in-depth understanding of your course content.
- Uncover new course opportunities in other departments at UMass Amherst and at other colleges in the Five College Consortium.
- Broaden your knowledge of graduate school and career options.
- Receive meaningful feedback on a research or creative project idea.
- Identify appropriate background reading and literature related to your academic interests and passions.
- Access facilities and equipment.
- Design a research instrument or plan.
- Navigate the complexities and expectations of your discipline.
- Receive guidance about your academic needs, concerns, and goals.
- Learn more about the local area and connect with the community. Since most faculty members call western Massachusetts home, they may be able to recommend activities, organizations, and resources off campus that will help you explore and enjoy this vibrant area.
Build a Faculty Relationship
Faculty and staff relationships take time to develop, so begin building relationships with faculty from your first day on campus.
Keep in mind that it is important to have established a relationship with faculty before you seek out an official sponsor for an Honors Research Grant or Honors Research Assistant Fellowship. For your Honors Thesis, if you decide to pursue an Independently Contracted Thesis, you will need to find two faculty members for your Thesis Committee.
You can start by visiting faculty members during their office hours, which are specifically designated to encourage faculty-student interaction. Many faculty members really enjoy getting to know students outside of the formal classroom, and they often are disappointed that so few students take the initiative to connect with them.
Lectures and Events
You can also attend departmental and university lectures and events—faculty members take notice when you attend extra-curricular activities. Take advantage of Commonwealth Honors College sponsored events that help connect faculty and students, such as Pizza and Prof and guest lectures sponsored by Commonwealth Honors College, and other Honors events and activities, as well as Student Affairs events.
Get involved with the department that is home to your major: attend departmental events, read articles and publications by faculty in your department, and familiarize yourself with journals and conferences in your discipline.
Make the Most of Your Faculty Meeting
You should always do some homework before you reach out to a faculty member that you do not already know. Though most faculty members are thrilled to have the opportunity to meet with students who share their passions, their plates are full with other responsibilities. To put your best foot forward at the beginning of a potential mentoring relationship, be prepared to clearly express your knowledge of the faculty members’ research and how that connects with your own interests.
A great first step is to visit departmental websites and read about faculty members’ areas of interest and research specialties. Follow links to learn more about their labs, research projects, and professional affiliations. Take the time to access and read a journal article or chapter that they have recently published, or review their creative endeavors.
Many colleges and departments (but not all) have information about faculty mentoring programs on their websites. See your departmental website or office staff for more information.
When approaching faculty members, introduce yourself as an Honors College student. You may want to ask them if they teach an Honors colloquium that accompanies their larger courses or if they would consider advising you on a one-credit Honors Independent Study to augment your experience in a course they teach. Connecting with faculty in these smaller settings is a great way to build rapport with them.
If you are majoring in a life or physical science, it is important to begin identifying potential faculty members and research labs during your first year on campus. Many Honors College students begin working in a faculty research lab as early as sophomore year. Being involved with a faculty research project early in your degree process will be very helpful when you seek out a faculty member to support your Honors Thesis Proposal. Because many introductory classes have large numbers of students enrolled, it is essential to connect with faculty members outside of the classroom.
Research Funding Opportunities
You can apply for the Commonwealth Honors College Honors Research Grants and Honors Research Assistant Fellowships as early as your first year. You may also contact the UMass Amherst Office of Undergraduate Research and Studies (OURS). OURS provides a clearinghouse of research opportunities both on-campus and off-campus, during the academic year as well as summer internships. OURS can help match you with a research opportunity.
What is the research process? What are the main phases in the life of a research project? The UMass Amherst Libraries offer extensive resources and librarians who are knowledgeable in your discipline who really care about helping you navigate all of the resources.
Library Research Resources is a streamlined overview of resources available through the UMass Libraries
Ask a Librarian provides information about how to contact a librarian including live chat.
Subject Research Guides enable you to locate the appropriate page for your subject or a related subject and explore the tabs at the top of the page – be sure to look for “research tips” or “writing in [your discipline].”
Award-Winning Research Tips
Former UMass Amherst history professor, Heather Cox Richardson, won an award for her series of tips for undergraduate students. Her Tips for Writing Research Papers for a College History Course are helpful for ALL humanities majors.
Student Research Experiences
Current and former Honors College students have written blog entries about their experiences with research opportunities.
From Honors College Students:
- Profiles of student who have completed an Honors Thesis.
- Honors InSight offers blog post from Honors students
From the UMass Amherst Students:
- Research Next offers stories about student research.