Hands-on Opportunities for Research Careers

The best way to get hands-on experience for a research career is by working on research projects. Become involved with a research project early, and keep working on projects as you progress through college. It is great to work on one project and gradually increase your level of responsibility. If you are doing well working on a project, ask for more responsibility. Other students work on a project for a year, then switch to a different project to develop a new kind of skill or explore a different substantive topic. If you are going to be in State College for the summer, ask around to see if anyone is hiring students to work on projects.

Don’t be shy about asking to work on research projects. Professors often need the help! But remember, the professors need you to complete the tasks to which you are assigned. Treat your research experience like a part-time position, and behave professionally. A strong letter of reference from a professor is a tremendous asset when you apply to graduate school.

One advantage of staying on a project for multiple years is increasing opportunities and responsibilities. Some HDFS students who have worked with HDFS professors have been co-authors on posters or papers presented at national conferences, or even on published journal articles. These experiences can strengthen your graduate school applications.

Use the HDFS faculty list to identify faculty whose research interests you. Or look at a list of current research projects. Not all projects are on this list, and faculty web pages sometimes don’t reflect very new projects or initiatives, so your best bet is to find faculty whose work interests you and ask them what they are working on and whether they require assistance.

On campus & community groups

Students interested in research can also benefit from hands-on experience working with the people or on the kinds of interventions they want to study. Having hands-on knowledge of your topic is essential to being a good researcher. Because topics vary so widely, work with the academic advisers and internship office to find opportunities to work with the people you want to research. Or look at the hands-on opportunities listed on the social work, teaching, and advocacy web pages for ideas.