By Allison Campbell-Jensen
University undergraduates interested in conducting research may wonder where to begin. Their first step? Think Like a Researcher, which is a mini-course developed by the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Libraries.
First-year student Aditya Prabhu, who took Think last fall, compared the mini-course to a hub.
“All the resources were all in one place,” he says. “As a freshman coming into the University of Minnesota without having really a good idea of where to go to find things, it was helpful.”
Connecting to knowledge
Think — which spans the distance from considering research to working on, even proposing, a project — starts by describing University-level research.
“I really enjoyed just getting that general introduction of what research looks like at the University,” says Madeline Meirhaeghe. “You really don’t know that from high school.”
Other topics covered in Think are ways to get involved in research, finding articles written by faculty, and identifying possible faculty mentors. Prabhu, who wants to go into computer engineering, is particularly interested in machine learning and artificial intelligence.
“With Think Like a Researcher, I was able to search through the departmental web pages a little better,” he says. “I was able to figure out some of the faculty who are really knowledgeable about machine learning and artificial intelligence.”
Then, with skills he learned from the course, he found and read some of their papers. “It’s pretty exciting,” Prabhu says. Artificial intelligence, he says, “is going to explode” and there’s “a lot of great research at the U.”
“It helped me open my eyes to the Libraries as a resource for finding research that I may not have considered.”
Originally an in-person workshop, Think now is presented online via Canvas.
“I’m a pretty big fan of having these online courses,” says Meirhaeghe, a biology major with a pre-med focus whose hometown is Lincolnshire, Illinois. “I know it’s not ideal with COVID but sometimes when you just want to learn about something, it’s been really helpful. Just watch a few videos, whenever you want, and do it on your own time.”
She found the professors in videotaped panel discussions to be open and engaging. They are looking for undergrads to join them in lab work and “they have an understanding of where you are.” She also has a mentor through a program to empower women in science. “That and Think Like a Researcher taught me way more ways to get into research than I had previously thought of,” Meirhaeghe says.
During the two weeks in fall that the mini-course was officially open, questions were answered and conversations were facilitated by Librarians Kate Peterson, Wanda Marsolek, Caitlin Bakker, Meghan Lafferty, Allison Langham-Putrow, and Kat Nelsen, as well as Victoria Munro and Heidi Fahning from the Office of Undergraduate Research.
“It helped me open my eyes to the Libraries as a resource for finding research that I may not have considered,” Meirhaeghe says. It also increased her comfort level about contacting OUR staff.
Even after Think concluded, its Canvas page, unlike those of typical courses, didn’t disappear. If Prabhu wants to refer to something from the course, it’s still there. “It was really nice to have that online connection and have an online platform where I can learn how to get involved at the U of M, even if that connection is virtual,” says Prabhu, who is studying remotely from his home in Shakopee.
“I’m still pretty far away but, in my heart, I’m pretty close and connected when it comes to the resources offered online,” he says. Prabhu and Meirhaeghe are on a bridge leading to a bright future.