- Adrian DiMarco ('26)
Get your Hands Dirty: How and Why to Pursue Undergraduate Research
Have you ever considered getting involved in research? Maybe you want lab experience to give yourself a competitive edge when applying for internships or jobs, or you have some extra credits you want to fill. Perhaps you are just interested in learning more about your field of study, and think that joining a lab group would be a fulfilling and an effective way to do so. Whatever the reason, many students are interested in joining some form of research group, but feel like it would be too difficult to get in a lab with little to no experience or connections. Thankfully, that notion is not true.
Office of Undergraduate Research
Virginia Tech offers a wide variety of resources to help prospective undergraduate researchers get their hands dirty. The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) is the most prominent of these and offers several opportunities for undergraduates. They have office hours every Thursday for students who want advice for deciding which research opportunities would best fit their needs. Additionally, they are partnered with several research institutes within Virginia Tech. Some notable examples include: the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, which offers medical and biological research positions available to anyone from high school to graduate school; the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment (ISCE), which seeks to address humanitarian and social issues; and the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences, which is renowned for its transdisciplinary research opportunities. If you are interested in a change of scenery, one option you might want to consider is pursuing a research opportunity in another country. OUR is not only partners with institutes within Virginia Tech, but also research organizations abroad as well. Virginia Tech and the University of Nottingham, UK collaborate to provide engineering students with research experiences on sustainable systems such as ecologically friendly transportation or more efficient electric grids. There is also a team that travels to study some of the many diverse bat species in China every year through a partnership with Shandong University. These are just a few examples of research opportunities abroad, as there are also others that are only available to certain majors or students in certain colleges. If you are interested in learning more about researching overseas, you can find additional information for specific programs on your university’s website.
Hume Center and other Defense Opportunities
If you are an Ocean Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, or Computer Science major, the Hume Center has both volunteer and paid positions in defense or security internships and research positions. While these opportunities are typically more competitive, it’s not unheard of for freshmen or students with little experience to get offers. Cybersecurity, machine learning, space and under sea operations, and secure communications are some of the primary initiatives that the Hume Center focuses on. One student who is currently pursuing a position at the Hume Center has agreed to speak with us about their experiences. Amirah Jones is a member of the Intelligence Community Centers for Academic Excellence (IC CAE), which is a federal program that is affiliated with the Hume Center. She is a freshman who knew that she wanted to make some kind of impact while also honing her technical skills. According to her, the IC CAE program has offered her an opportunity to do so. She says that while it is extra work, it doesn’t really feel like it because it’s something that she wants to do. In other words, her research doesn’t conflict with her other academics. One of the positives Amirah wanted to highlight was that the program offers her a lot of support. Many of the professionals that she works with guide her and teach her skills she wouldn’t have learned in her courses. One message that she wants to impart on readers is that people of more diverse backgrounds should feel more encouraged to pursue research. One of the many things she’s learned through the IC CAE program is the importance of working with people of different perspectives.
Other ways to get Involved
Maybe you are still interested in research, but none of the positions we’ve covered so far appeal to you. That’s completely fine! The beauty of going to a research institution is that the majority of the research groups on campus are open to undergraduates even if a good portion of them aren’t well advertised. Most professors, if not all, are involved in some form of research regardless of what college they are a part of. This begs the question, how can you find projects that interest you, and how can you get involved in them? Finding projects is simple: go to your college’s website, or on to vtx.vt.edu, and skim through articles that interest you. Virginia Tech newsletters and blogs routinely publish content about niche research teams that are active on campus and are a great way to scout out opportunities that appeal to you. Bookmark any that you would want to work on or that align with your interests and values. To get involved in any of the projects, draft a professional email to the professor or team lead cited in the article. While it might seem bothersome, remember that part of a professor’s responsibility is to find passionate students to fill roles in their team. However, only email professors with projects that you are serious about or that align with your goals or personal mission.
Research can be an extremely rewarding experience, and even though it might seem daunting, Virginia Tech offers significant support for undergraduate researchers. If it’s something you want to have in your college experience, there are several paths that you can take to get involved.