Research FAQs

How is research in the humanities, social sciences, and math different from research in the natural sciences?

Research in the natural sciences tends to be well-established and organized. Each principal investigator (PI) has their own lab and the graduate students/post-doctoral fellows in the lab work in coordinated efforts to gather data. Research in the humanities, social sciences, and math tends to be more independent and freeform. How the research is conducted and the end product are up to the discretion of the researcher.

What if I only want to conduct research to enhance my resume?

Doing research can definitely be a resume builder. It shows commitment toward a good cause, intellectual curiosity, and excellent problem solving skills. Experience writing a paper as an undergraduate can give you a head start on your thesis or dissertation in graduate or medical school. However, future employers will be able to tell whether your research was really a core part of your undergraduate experience or something you did just to add to your resume.

What can undergraduate students do in a lab?

Depending on how experienced they are, an undergraduate student may be just observing or compiling data for the graduate student in charge. Students with more experience (usually upper-class students) will sometimes have their own independent project.

I do the same thing in my lab every day. Is my research going to get more exciting?

It’s commonly said that research is 99% failure and 1% success. Research is essentially systematic searching, so it involves repetition. You will need to persist through it. There will be periods of time where you might be collecting data or doing menial work that doesn’t seem to accomplish a lot. You might have to test a hundred solutions before you find one that works. When you do, however, the results can be life changing and well worth all the effort. Take things step by step, and you’ll gradually see it bear fruit.

I don’t see my PI often, or we don’t interact very well. What should I do?

Talk to your PI or professor. Tell them explicitly what you were hoping to gain from the experience. If there is a mismatch in expectations, you might want to consider switching to another PI or professor. However, sometimes there is just a natural barrier that you have to overcome. You need to gain the trust of the graduate students and your PI by coming regularly to the lab, committing to the things you promise to do, and showing that you are interested in learning new protocols.

I’m thinking about doing paid research. How do I go about it?

University policy dictates that all independent work done for academic credit cannot be paid. However, paid research is very different from doing research for credit. When you do research for credit, what you do is mostly up to you. You can explore projects/topics that interest you. When you are paid, you are obligated to do whatever is in the job description.You can usually find paid research assistant positions on the Student Employment Services website. Typically, employers offering these positions are looking for applicants with quite a bit of prior research experience.

How do I conduct research abroad?

Most students find research abroad by talking with their professors. Many professors have colleagues researching similar topics in other countries with whom they can connect you. Upper-class students may even be able to apply for direct matriculation to other universities for a semester of research.

There are specific programs that can help you do international independent research. SIT Study Abroad has semester and summer programs in Africa and Latin America that involve direct research and case studies in public health and anthropology. EURO Scholars provides opportunities for students to spend a semester as a junior researcher at some of the top scientific institutions in Europe.

Once you’ve obtained your research position:

  1. Meet with Dr. Lori Citti, director of study abroad
  2. Complete the International Research/Independent Study form
  3. Provide Johns Hopkins with emergency contact information
  4. Sign the Student Assumption of Risk and Release form

Before you leave, consider getting international insurance. Johns Hopkins automatically provides International SOS, a medical health care and security services insurance that can direct you to medical centers in foreign countries. Visit their website to learn more.