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What is Undergraduate Research?

The Council for Undergraduate Research defines undergraduate research as “an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.”

Though many people falsely assume that only professors or graduate students are involved in research, in reality research is integrated into many of our undergraduate academic courses and is featured as the capstone experience in a number of majors. Undergraduate research runs the gamut from biology research in a laboratory to music performance at a senior honors recital. While “research” may conjure images of white lab coats or stacks of leather bound library books, creative activities expand the definition of research to a modern and interdisciplinary realm. From 2D artwork to live performances to artistic historical investigations, many Vanderbilt students expand their academic experiences to a stage, a gallery, or popular media. Many of our undergraduate students also conduct interdisciplinary research across majors, fields, and schools.

Research can also take place in many places and at many times. Vanderbilt offers an exceptional number of opportunities for undergraduate students to do research over the summer, but many students also partake in research right alongside their classwork in Fall and Spring semesters. And although many students do research right here at Vanderbilt, many students also travel to other universities, other cities, other countries, or are supported by types of institutions like government laboratories or privately owned corporations and foundations. Finally, students are not limited by class year, as students from all four years regularly partake in research.

Samples of recent undergraduate research projects and creative activities include:

-Examining the relationship between speech patterns and language in music

-Traveling to New York City to study performing art as a form of activism

-Measuring lung cancer cell growth and drug response in different tissue environments

-Comparing the acoustic properties of speech for preschool students who stutter and those who do not

-Studying corruption in Latin America to predict the public’s acceptance of a military coup

-Working on an archaeological dig in Peru

-Assisting a visiting art professor build bikes with battery powered stereos

-Using an unpublished 15th century book from the Vanderbilt library collection to see how the text and images support women’s devotions in the Middle Ages

-Shadowing and analyzing the behavior of school principles in different school settings

-Creating and updating Wikipedia articles for the Vanderbilt Library Special Collections