Students explore research opportunities at Iowa State


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Research Centerpiece design

Sage Smith

Iowa State students from every major have various opportunities to participate in research.

Sarah Nusser is the vice president for research. The Office of the Vice President for Research works to help facilitate research to provide opportunities for faculty, staff and students for conducting research.

Nusser said the office develops training programs for researchers, provides services to help people prepare research proposals and follow rules and regulations and invests in interdisciplinary research.

“[Research] helps you approach a project that might not be completely formed and learn how to define what that project is, learn how to gather information about a question you might have and refine that question,” Nusser said. “You have to learn how to work with people, learn how to communicate. I think the discovery process itself is just very exciting.”

Emily Hammer is a senior in management and marketing with French, psychology and leadership minors. Hammer has been involved with research since her second semester of freshman year, where she started out in the First-Year Honors Program.

“From there I got a position in the College of Business neurolabs,” Hammer said. “So there I run EEGs and iTracking and I’m currently helping a doctoral student with his research, so that’s been really cool.”

Svitlana Zbarska is the campus-wide undergraduate research program coordinator for the University Honors Program. Last semester Hammer said Zbarska started an undergraduate research ambassador task force at Iowa State.

“[Zbarska] wanted us to have that purpose of being a liaison between research and our respective colleges so we can promote research to other students, especially in colleges like business who may not know about different business research opportunities,” Hammer said. “Or just acting as that early contact for students who don’t know who to talk to […] they might just want a student to talk to, so that’s been a really great opportunity so far.”

Those interested in research can reach out to Zbarska to discuss their research options and she can help connect the student with what they are interested in. Students can also ask their professors and instructors if there is research they’re working on that the student could possibly get involved with.

Participating in research can be a way for students to gain experience with hands-on work.

Not all research is lab-based solo work. Students can find research opportunities where they often work with others and get out of a lab setting. A big part of the research process, Hammer said, is coming up with an idea and figuring out how to pursue it while working with others.

A student who participated in a research program that did include a lot of lab work was Austin Sympson, senior in chemical engineering.

Sympson had a 10-week summer research internship where he worked with an Iowa State chemistry professor. He looked at the more analytic side of chemistry for his research with ionic liquids.

“That’s entirely in the lab,” Sympson said. “And I’m not one of those people that hates being in the lab all day. Some people are like ‘I can’t be stuck in a cubicle all day,’ have to be moving with their job. I love being in the lab, I think it’s a blast.”

For Lucas Goodman, senior in animal ecology and environmental studies, some research had the more hands-on approach. Goodman has participated in five research experiments throughout his college career, three of which were at Iowa State.

Goodman’s research experiments ranged from working with grasslands to studying the effect of a water dam on turtles in the Missouri River.

“Lots of [the] time, what you’re doing is addressing a real-world problem,” Goodman said. “So it’s pretty rare for someone that, especially our age, gets to dive in to solving a problem that potentially could help a lot of people, save a lot of money, make something much more productive, help the environment, whatever it may be.”

Research can allow students to explore their academics beyond the classroom. These research programs and experiments can provide unique opportunities outside the routine schedule of students’ everyday lives.

“It’s dynamic,” Sympson said. “You’re learning as you’re doing because nobody has done what you’re doing before. You might be doing a certain study or something someone might have conducted before but the results that you’re going to get are never going to be the same as somebody else’s, even if you’re trying to go for repeatable results.”

An appealing aspect of research is how it looks to potential employers. Participating in research can be beneficial to all students, but specifically for those looking to attend graduate school.

“If you are interested in a graduate program or doctorate program, they almost exclusively want to see that you have some type of research involvement,” Hammer said. “It’s good for employers because you can talk about how you followed something through from beginning to end.”

Another part of research that can appeal to students is a financial benefit. Some research opportunities do offer some sort of payment for the work they put in. Students can also explore doing their own project, which they can find grants and scholarships to help with.

Those interested in finding a research opportunity to participate in can speak with Zbarska and explore Iowa State’s undergraduate research website. The website has listed opportunities, information for faculty and how to present research.

Another option is to ask a professor or instructor, as they may be working on a research project and have a job in that project a student can work on. Goodman said students shouldn’t be afraid to talk to professors and ask questions because spending that time with a professor can build a connection with them.

“A good mentor will help you learn the context of what you’re studying, kind of broaden your view,” Nusser said. “They will help you get to know other people that are related to your area or might be useful for you to know. […] I think those mentorship relationships are really important. I know that I’ve had mentors that have really profoundly affected what I ended up doing and I feel very grateful for having had those kinds of relationships.”

Students can also have a conversation with their academic adviser for guidance through the research process.

“If there is one thing I would want somebody to take away, [it] is that research is more than a microscope and writing a paper,” Hammer said. “It’s a great opportunity to connect with people across disciplines because you don’t have to do research in your own area. […] Research is about finding something that you want to solve or develop and pursuing it.”

Reporting contributed by Lydia Samuelson.