student doing research

What Is Undergraduate Research?

How do parenting practices influence the ways that children cope with stress? Can different exercise methods affect the level of muscle atrophy in spinal cord injuries? What is the three-dimensional crystal structure of human ES1? What is the impact of ethanol plants on a local economy? How have William Carlos Williams’ and Gottfried Benn’s careers as physicians affected their work as poets?

These are just a few examples of the research questions explored by students just like you! Through Undergraduate Research, you’ll work alongside world-class UNL faculty members conducting cutting-edge research that will shape the future of Nebraska and beyond.

Undergraduate research at UNL includes the arts, education, engineering, humanities, and the traditional sciences like chemistry, biology, and physics. Research projects range from studying switchgrass plants grown for biofuel to identifying and cataloging the poems of Walt Whitman, from exploring the effects of background noise on productivity to creating textiles made of corn.

Why Engage in Undergraduate Research?

There are many good reasons to participate in undergraduate research opportunities. Here are just a few:

  • Completing a research or creative project gives you “hands-on” experience and an in-depth understanding of what you are studying.
  • Engaging in undergraduate research will help you develop and hone those skills necessary to your field of study and your future job.
  • Experience in undergraduate research will give you a competitive edge when you apply to graduate school or for a job in your field.
  • Success in an undergraduate research experience demonstrates to others that you can complete a major project AND you have evidence (your project) that shows you are capable.
  • For some students, the end product of a successful undergraduate research experience results in an Honor’s thesis, qualifying scholars to graduate with honors or distinction.

Is Undergraduate Research For You?

Like anything that matters, research requires an intentional commitment. Before committing to research, consider your time constraints, your interests, your personal working style, and your educational goals.

Ask yourself these questions:

What are your goals for undergraduate research? Do you want to develop transferrable research skills?  Gain in-depth understanding of your discipline?  Build your collaboration skills?  Explore developments in your field? Prepare for graduate school?  Learn to effectively communicate research results?

How do you prefer to learn? Is hands-on learning your preferred style?  Do you work best alone or do you prefer working in groups?  Can you manage a project independently? 

What are the qualities and skills that make you a good researcher?   Ask any faculty mentor and you’ll learn that successful undergraduate researchers are motivated and persistent. What other characteristics make a successful undergraduate researcher? Here are just a few:


  • Demonstrates responsibility
  • Sets realistic goals
  • Is flexible and open
  • Organizes time effectively
  • Likes challenges
  • Accepts feedback

  • Works well with others
  • Is honest
  • Thinks outside the box
  • Meets deadlines
  • Is curious about the field
  • Is interested in learning

If you have two or more of these qualities, then you have what it takes to be an undergraduate researcher. Why wait? Get started.