Get Started in Research

What is Research?

Research is a systematic process to discover, create, or contribute to generalizable knowledge. Definitions and categorization of research vary by professional field, academic discipline, method of inquiry, and objective.

What is Undergraduate Research?

The Council on 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.”

Undergraduate research is faculty-driven, student-centered, and institutionally supported and provides the combination of factors necessary for pedagogical effectiveness, enhanced learning outcomes, research productivity, and research program sustainability.

What are the Benefits of Undergraduate Research?

According to the Council on Undergraduate Research, active undergraduate student participation in research:

  • Enhances student learning through mentoring relationships with faculty
  • Increases retention and graduation in academic programs
  • Increases enrollment in graduate education and provides effective career preparation
  • Develops critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and intellectual independence
  • Develops an understanding of research methodology
  • Promotes an innovation-oriented culture

What are Accceptable Stages of Research for the Tri-Annual Undergraduate Research Symposia and Spectra Undergraduate Research Journal?

We define undergraduate research in the broadest and most inclusive way. The following are considered acceptable forms and stages of research that can be presented at OUR's symposia and can be submitted for publication in the Spectra Undergraduate Research Journal:

  • Literature-based research (e.g. review of climate change research)
  • Reviews of publicly available facts rather than subjective opinions
  • Evlauation of previously published data from open access databases or previously published research
  • Preliminary analysis, results, or findings from ongoing research
  • Proposed methodologies, plans, questions, and goals

Learn the Ethics of Research

UNLV is committed to performing high-quality research in an ethical manner in compliance with relevant regulations and policies.

All human subjects research conducted by UNLV faculty, staff, and students must be approved by the UNLV Institutional Review Board (IRB) prior to starting the project. All UNLV Researchers are required to complete the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) course on the "The Protection of Human Subjects" before their research protocol can be accepted for review by the IRB. For more information about research integrity, the UNLV Insitutional Review Board, and student research, please visit the Office of Research Integrity (ORI).

Learn the Types of Research

The nature of the research process may significantly vary in every field, reflecting diverse and divergent disciplinary foundations, paradigms, as well as theoretical and methodological approaches.

Research is a systematic process to discover, create, or contribute to generalizable knowledge. Definitions and categorization of research vary by professional field, academic discipline, method of inquiry, and objective. Visit this page to learn more about UNLV’s 18 major academic units, i.e. colleges, schools, departments, and other programs..

Research can also be categorized in more general terms as applied vs. basic research or qualitative vs. quantitative research. There is, however, a middle ground where a combination of approaches blend to address more complex issues.

The definitions and examples are as follows:

Applied Research

Scientific study and research that seeks to solve practical problems and to find solutions to everyday problems, cure illnesses, and innovate new technologies, rather than to acquire new knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Examples include:

  • How can we cure cancer?
  • How can we design more efficient and affordable cars?
  • Can we innovate smaller, faster, and cheaper computers or phones?
  • How can we improve grain yields?

Basic or Pure Research

Driven by a researcher’s interest in a specific question for the sake of generating new knowledge or expanding existing knowledge. There is no visible value, gain-seeking, or commercial interest. Examples include:

  • What is the “black hole”?
  • How did the universe begin?
  • Why do birds migrate?
  • What are electrons?

Qualitative Research

Deals with phenomena that are difficult or impossible to measure or quantify mathematically, such as beliefs, meanings, emotions, and symbols in order to gain deep insights into human behavior and the reasons that govern such behavior.

  • Why does youth language change over time?
  • Is there a relationship between individual identities and eating behaviors?
  • How do science and religious rhetoric intersect, particularly around issues of climate change, human origins, and the body?
  • What are the ethics of immigration?

Quantitative Research

Refers to the systematic empirical investigation of any phenomena via statistical, mathematical, or computational methods and technics with the goal of developing generalizable models, theories and hypotheses pertaining to phenomena.

  • Understanding the radiation induced mammary carcinogenesis
  • Electronic and chemical properties of surfaces and interfaces
  • The development of data management systems for the purposes of habitat restoration and preservation of ecological data
  • Inferential procedures for coefficient alpha to measure internal consistency reliability

Learn the Elements of Good Research

Here is a list of best practices for you to understand the elements of good research. You may use this list as a guideline before you develop your own research path and come up with a specific plan.

  • Purpose: What are the goals, questions, expected outcomes?
  • Relevance: Does it matter and why? Is it important?
  • Resources: What will you need? Time, space, funds, samples?
  • Originality: New ideas, contexts, samples, and technologies?
  • Accuracy: Well planned? Robust in design? Adequate sampling?
  • Accountability: Credible and trustworthy?
  • Generalizations: Patterns that could be replicable?
  • Objectivity: Contamination of findings by opinions and feelings?
  • Ethics: Ensure confidentiality and preserve the rights of involved?
  • Proof: How can you prove you are right and not dogmatic?

Develop a Research Path

If you are interested in carrying out research as an undergraduate student, you need to first understand that research is a journey, a tedious process that needs commitment and preparation. There are steps you can take to prepare and ensure that you are well positioned to begin working on a research project. No matter where you are in your degree program, you can get involved in research; however, keep in mind that you will first want to understand the research cycle.

Please note that our office is here to help you get research ready through our Research Skills Academy programs in fall, spring, and summer semesters and Research Boot Camp program in summer. These programs offer ample professional development and career training opportunities to get you started on your research journey.

Here is a helpful guideline for you to understand and demystify the research process provided that you follow the specific conventions and basic tenets and paradigms in your own field of inquiry.

Research Process Steps

  1. Decide on your topic based on your broad definition of interests and thoughts; look for a doable and manageable project.

  2. Define your question, problem, hypothesis then seek to narrow your search for primary and secondary sources. Use your library’s Subject Guides and reference tools.

  3. Decide on the kinds of sources you can use and consider what represents primary and secondary sources in your subject area.

  4. Find out what has already been written on the topic and understand what type and format of materials are in the library.

  5. Consider other types of materials that might be relevant to your research and look beyond the obvious such as reports and statistics by institutions and agencies, images and graphic materials, video recordings, etc.

  6. Organize your findings and arrange and rearrange your information until patterns emerge.

  7. Analyze and synthesize your results.

Identify a Faculty Member and Initiate Correspondence

The next professional step, after you have identified a general area of research, is to identify a faculty member who could mentor you throughout your research journey. Your involvement with your mentor may range from working in a laboratory to conducting an independent research project. Before you approach the professor in person or through email, grab a pen and paper and think about the following:

  1. Be prepared to briefly and clearly talk about what your general research interests are and what, if any, specific questions you would like to pursue.
  2. Be prepared to articulate why you want to get involved in a particular research program and how does this relate to and align with your career development plans and learning aspirations.
  3. Learn about faculty research to get a general sense of what kinds of projects they are running, why you are interested in, and how you might contribute.
  4. Have an updated CV (academic resume). If you don’t have a CV or if it needs to be updated, you may want to schedule an appointment with UNLV’s Career Services or utilize their resources available online. You may also refer to our advising page for CV templates.

Learn How to Communicate with Faculty Professionally

In this section, we would like to prompt you to consider other important aspects of establishing yourself as a well-rounded undergraduate student. Being a good student forms the first step toward being research ready and developing as an undergraduate scholar! Learn how to write, compute, design, perform, and communicate in a professional and effective manner. To navigate successfully, ask your professors questions to understand their expectations, go to their office hours, and take advantage of available resources. Your first contact with the faculty member should be professional. If you are not sure as to how to initiate correspondence with faculty in a respectful and professional fashion, refer to our advising page for email templates. Whether the research is short-term (semester-long) or long-term (4 years and beyond), research is a significant investment for students, faculty members, and administrators. Students should also consult faculty mentors and ask for clear and explicit instructions and expectations about time and labor commitments.