A question students often ask me is how they can enhance their chances to get into their dream universities. I often recommend them to conduct formal research,.
Conducting research is an inquiry-based process that involves identifying a question, gathering information, analyzing and evaluating evidence, drawing conclusions, and sharing the knowledge gained. The ability to conduct research is a critical skill students need to be college and career ready.
A skill that is needed for college is a skill that admissions officials look out for in potential admits. In fact, many universities come up with summer research volunteering plans for high school students. These summer research programs require students to apply, and the application deadlines are either January or February while the programs are always set to kick off as from June.
The following are steps you can follow to start with your research activities:
How to Research
1. Ask Yourself Why to Participate in Research. Before you begin any research, you need to ask yourself why you need that particular research. What’s your aim with that research? Do you expect a positive or a negative impact? By doing the research, is it going to change anything?
You need to make sure that you understand the three types of research questions before you kick-off. What are your descriptive research questions? For example, how many calories do whites take every day?
If you are going with the comparative research questions, you need to ask yourself questions like what is the difference between people who consume more calories per day and those who don’t? Finally, you should ask the causal research questions, such as what is the relationship between single men and single women?
2. Get the Hang of a Research Methodology. Next, you need to make sure that you have background information on the study you want to take. This can be done by going through a couple of different publications, journals and any other available resources. Additionally, you need to approach scientists or PhD students to walk you through by helping you to access the most relevant scientific materials.
While it’s true that going through research materials may not be easy, especially if you don’t have much experience with research, you need to try and go through some concepts and familiarize yourself with them. Going through research articles might help you to decide what research topics can be ideal for you.
3. You Can’t Answer All Questions at Once. You need to narrow down your topic to make sure you are not trying to answer all questions at once. Again, reading through different research materials like articles will come in handy. And by the way, you need to be patient at this stage because narrowing down a research question often consumes time.
For some people, it might take quite a long time - up to months. But this should not discourage you. Instead, move at your own pace and make sure you have a research topic that will help solve a problem.
4. Ask questions. Asking questions is one of the best ways to learn. Don’t take any questions stupid, especially when you are conducting your research as a group. Make sure all the group members are listening carefully to get the question right and help if you can. That applies to you, too. Be inquisitive and benefit from either your group members or your research professors.
Set discussion meeting days, if you are conducting your research in a group. Likewise, make sure you set meetings with your teachers to guide you through. While it is your responsibility to do the research, your teachers also have to guide you through to make sure you are all on the right track. Make sure you correct any mistakes identified by your teachers.
5. Don’t limit yourself. When conducting your research, you mustn’t limit yourself. Plan your activities as usual, and don’t start skipping other vital activities. Create a timetable and fit in the additional activities to make sure that you are not leaving anything out and that you are doing the right thing at the right time.
6. Don’t Expect to Improve Your Grades Through Research. While it is essential to take part in research, you don’t have to go crazy that it’ll completely change your results. Only a few of the exams you will do will test the research skills you will acquire during your research period. For example, statistics are not commonly tested in exams, but it is essential to understand them properly.
7. Some things Might Have to Be Explained a Couple of Times. It is most probably that research is a new concept to you, and it is natural that you won’t grasp some concepts immediately. Your lecturers will have to explain them to you over and over again. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself because you failed to understand a concept too fast. This is something natural, and nearly every student will experience this.
To make sure that you grasp every concept, make sure to pay attention to detail when your scientists are guiding you. Jot down some notes to help you remember them easily. Also, watch a couple of videos and go through the notes you jotted down when in class to refresh your mind and familiarize yourself with the concepts.
8. Build a Strong Group. Two heads are better than one - that’s for sure. But you also need to make sure that you build a strong army who will make your research work more manageable. Choose the right group members; people who are passionate about research work and those who are serious. Having a group of serious research group members will save you from the hassle of dragging the project because other members are not taking the work seriously.
9. Listen for the Soundest Arguments. While basing your decision on the majority vote is a good bet, you should also learn to listen to the minority as they may have the soundest approach for the project. Most importantly, leverage arguments from both sides and decide which is best for the research.
10. Cultivate Social Interactions in the Group. Like I mentioned before, you need to listen to both the majority and minority votes for successful research. Interact with each member by participating in conversations which aren’t related to the Science project to enhance a relaxed atmosphere for each other. Not only will this enhance the success of the project, but also the trust you have for one another.
Additionally, social interactions in the group will help unveil common interests, and as such, identify valuable members to add to research projects.
11. Consistently Communicate with Your Collaborators. Again, communication is the key to the success of any project. Consistently seek guidance from professional scientists regarding the research and keep the conversation going even after finding help. Most importantly, participate in collaborative meetings to help you stick to the project’s objective. That said, a professional collaborator will help enhance your commitments towards the project by pulling you back on track when the zeal drops.
12. Have a Reasonable Study Question. Choosing a research topic can be downright frustrating, especially when you don’t have a professional scientist to walk you through. Meanwhile, you can identify some of the topics that you’re best at and leverage your choices. Also, it would be worthwhile to keep your projects simple and avoid unchangeable variables.
Adequately understand the experiment and prove your interests towards it. If you intend to carry research based on human characters, make sure that you understand all their behaviours.
13. How Will You Collect and Record Data? Planning and organization are always crucial to anything you do. Failing to plan your research could let it fail in the long run. That is why you need to plan how you will collect, analyze and organize the data you will obtain when doing your research.
If you will be doing research that relates to anything about human behavior, it is best if you use a computer program for the collection of data. This is because you will need more data when dealing with such kinds of data to reach a research conclusion.
14. Capture All Data. It is not good to assume any information when researching because you might never know what information will be valuable to give a research conclusion. That said, you may want to capture many details as you can to ease your process of making a research conclusion. Leaving out some information might force you to go back and redo the work.
15. Critically Assess Your Results. You need to be aware of some misinterpretations. So it would be best if you made sure that you critically assess the results you obtained. Additionally, you need to ask yourself whether the results you got are realistic. If you notice or realize any discrepancies, make sure to redo the work and make sure you have realistic results this time around.
16. Your Results Should Replicate the Previous Results. This doesn’t mean that you need to copy another research. What it means is that you need to make sure that the results you obtain closely relate to other studies that were done in the past. In other words, you need to make your results realistic.
Also, you need to make sure that you have filled the gaps that other recent or past research had. If they didn’t tackle something, make sure to capture it in your research. That means that you must never present anything generic in the name of research. The basis of doing research is to find more solutions to a problem that has existed.
Some people have had success by first experimenting using their questions before they start the actual research. This helps you identify any possible mistakes and make corrections before starting the actual research.
17. Be Passionate About What You are Doing. Some students have a negative feeling about research work, and that shouldn’t be the case. You need to have a positive attitude towards research work and do it at your best. Don’t worry too much about the technicalities and the time investment that comes with it. Make sure to develop a growth mindset and do it with passion to ensure you don’t end up failing.
18. Have Fun. It is good to celebrate every success you earn. That is why you need to have a little fun at the end of your research work. Invite your group members for a small bash. You don’t have to spend a lot. You may need a few drinks or meet and congratulate yourself for the successful research work done.
3 Tips for Obtaining Research Experience
Let’s face it - Identifying research topics can be a daunting prospect. Outlined below are some of the tips to walk you through the entire process.
1. Approach professional scientists at a nearby college or university. Usually, a good number of universities have research laboratories with students serving as Research Assistants. Feel free to reach out to any of them for guidance and ask relevant questions based on the project. Or, visit the school’s website and conduct an in-depth search on the departments you intend to research.
If you’re already enrolled in college, please ask your professors or even lecturers for guidance. Some colleges, however, have put in place research practice courses that let you register in, of course, at an additional fee. If you encounter challenges in the process of your research, try consulting from other members of the research lab as they are more experienced. Most importantly, be confident to express your interests in whichever field. Who knows? You might be creating research opportunities for yourself.
And because college undergraduates tend to be more exposed to research opportunities, tons of colleges often volunteer to assist high school students with their science projects.
2. Check out if there are research programs near you. Indeed, opportunities don’t exist - you have to create them. But don’t take it as plain as there is no opportunity. What I mean is that you need to go out and look for these opportunities.
If you are a high school student residing in New York City, be sure to check out the “New York City Research Mentoring Consortium.” This is a program that was put in place by the American Museum of Natural History and includes a ton of programs students can leverage. And you may also want to check out some programs put in place by the state.
- Hutton Program for High School
- SSP in Astrophysics or BioChemistry
- Della Keats Summer Research Program
- OUR Volunteer Research Program
- High School Research Program
3. Don’t give up. You don’t have to fret when one opportunity slips away. The chances are that you will get another opportunity to take part in research elsewhere. Check out for more opportunities by inquiring from your teachers if they could know of any institutions that have research programs. The chances are that your teachers know more and could help to get an opportunity on your behalf.
Also, you can leverage the technology you have at hand - the internet. Make good use of Google and try to research some of the best volunteering research opportunities for high school students, and you will have more than enough chances to choose from. The bottom line here is to keep trying and never lose hope. Rejections are bound to happen, but that’s not the end of the world.
In case you get accepted in several research institutions, there are a few things you can consider to help you make a rational decision. These factors include:
- Exciting Project — You need to visit the research institution or connect with the researcher on the phone and describe the research project you would love to work on. Make sure that both of you are comfortable with the research idea before you can accept. If the researcher looks uncomfortable, then this might not be the best deal for you.
- Interpersonal Dynamic — You also need to visit the research institution and make sure that you are comfortable with every member you will be working with during your research period. Otherwise, your research project won’t be a success if you are not comfortable working with members of that research institution.
- Funding and Publication Record — While you can be desperate to land any volunteer research program as a high school student, you need to make sure that the research groups only publish high-quality research work in their journals. It is also essential to make sure that the research institution has the available resources for research work.
While choosing the right research question can be a daunting prospect, this ultimate guide will help you leverage your research interests. Just make sure that you have your facts right and choose variables that can be changed and simplified if need be.
Also, participate in productive conversations that aren’t science-related to help you garner valuable skills that will make your project a success. Being open and listening to what each member of the group will help a long way towards the success of the research.
Enhance the trust you have for each other by letting each member’s vote count regardless of the size of the group. Who knows? They might have the soundest argument on what's best for the project.
Most importantly, establish connections with renowned scientists and borrow experiences that can add value to your team.
That said, I hope that you find this guide useful and that you're able to implement each of the tips for the success of your research.
All the best in your research process!