Undergraduate Research Questions and Answers
For undergraduate students, engaging in research can be a life changing experience. By engaging in research, you begin the path of becoming a professional scientist, or gain scientific experience that will be relevant to careers in environmental management, consulting, policy, or law. Scientific research hones your skills of asking appropriate questions, managing and interpreting data, and analyzing samples you collect in the field or in experiments. Scientific research also hones your creative skills, because you are involved in solving both scientific problems and problems you face in the field or in the lab. Asking the right question and designing the proper field or laboratory strategy are very creative endeavors.
Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions about research in the Earth and Environmental Sciences. If you have any further questions, just ask one of the faculty members, and we will be glad to provide answers!
We engage students ranging from freshmen to seniors in collaborative research with faculty. Because of the collaborative nature of the research, you can start as early as you want. Typically, you will receive a lot of guidance in the beginning and will increasingly become more independent as you gain more experience. The best way to get started in research is to discuss your interest with one of us. We can guide you to the appropriate faculty member. Also, we will have a meeting once a year with majors in which we discuss ongoing and potential research topics.
It depends. During the academic year, you can overload or take EES 502 “Independent Research” which is variable credit. This means you can set the credit from 0-4 credit hours, with expectations increasing with increased credit. For example you may want to get involved at a minimal level in a small exploratory project for 0 credits, or you might want to do a full blown research project involving field, lab, and library research for 4 credits. During the summer, if you are a Furman Advantage student or working on grant, you may not receive academic credit because you are being paid.
In the summer, yes. Most, but not all, student that do research are either Furman Advantage scholars or being paid by grant to the faculty. Pay is variable, and sometimes housing is covered and sometimes not. However, the goal is to gain scientific experience, not make a bunch of money!
For students completing the B.S. degree, a senior thesis is required. For students completing the B.A. degree, a senior thesis is not required, but you can still do a thesis if you desire. Most often, but not always, students engage in a research project during the summer of their junior year, and use that data for writing their senior thesis. Some students, for a variety of reasons, cannot do research over the summer, and do research during the fall of the senior year.
You should begin planning for your senior thesis late in the fall term of your junior year. Faculty need to apply for Furman Advantage fellowships in January, so this sets your deadline. We may have grants as well, but typically that requires a separate application. Talk with various faculty members to determine what type of research you are interested in, and then express a desire to work with that faculty member. Be sure to have a back up choice because we try to distribute students among the faculty.
No. EES 472 is a required course and only taught in the fall. Students that do not take this course struggle mightily with their thesis, and the results often are less than expected. Because you present your research at a professional meeting in the spring, present at Furman Engaged!, and defend your thesis in a formal presentation to the Department in April, you should not plan on study abroad during your senior year.
First, you must engage in field and/or laboratory based research, as a senior thesis is an original piece of scientific research. Typically, this research is done during the summer after your junior year, though some students do multiple summers of research. Second, you must take EES 472 “Senior Thesis” during the fall of your senior year. This course guides you through the thesis writing process. Third, you must submit an abstract of your research to a professional meeting and present your research at that professional meeting. Most often, students present posters at the Southeastern Sectional Meeting of the Geological Society of America. Fourth, you must present an oral defense of your research in a formal presentation to the department that is open to the public. Then, we celebrate!!
Yes. At our annual departmental research meeting for students, we will show you alternatives to doing research at Furman. These include doing research at the University of Florida through the HHMI program, doing research at an NSF-REU site, and doing research through the Keck consortium, among others. These programs tend to be quite competitive, and we can help you prepare applications. If you do this for your senior thesis, you will need to identify one of us to “sponsor” you, because someone needs to help you with your thesis!
Our philosophy is that there is no difference between student and faculty research. All of us are active in research – we are practicing scientists, not just teachers. However, teaching through collaborative research is the highlight of teaching and learning at Furman because you get extended one-on-one time with a faculty member (or members). Nearly all of our research is collaborative with students, and the relationship quickly shifts from student-teacher to the student being a junior colleague and having a say in the direction of the research. Our goal is to make you the expert.
A multitude of reasons exist for you to do an undergraduate research project. First, you learn to manage and complete a large project, including writing about and presenting the results. This skill is critical to any professional field you enter. Second, you learn a lot about yourself, especially how to work through unexpected problems when doing either field or laboratory research, which gives you a tremendous amount of self-confidence. Third, if you choose to go to graduate school, a completed senior thesis, one or more abstracts presented at a professional meeting, laboratory and field experience, and perhaps a journal manuscript in preparation, gives you a huge advantage when applying to graduate programs. We know your strengths, weaknesses, and work ethic intimately, and therefore can write a detailed and persuasive letter of recommendation. We also help you through the process of applying to graduate school and show you how to use your experience in statements of purpose.