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What counts as undergrad research?


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Hi all,

I'm a little late to the game of getting undergrad research under my belt (just getting started in my last year). For some background info, (I finally pin-pointed!) I want to study social/education policy in grad school and also have ~4 years cumulative experience in nonprofit after school programs at the administrative and direct-service level. 

This semester I've assisted an Anthro professor in conducting a lit review (in French) to add references to an article of hers she's revising in order to get published (basically her readers asked for very specific areas of research that were next to impossible to find - also her research topic is related to family and child welfare). Next semester I'm helping her to get a research project off the ground. She's trying to get a grant from the NSF to conduct research in public schools in the area. I'm going to be doing more lit reviews and potentially helping to organize a mini quasi-experiment to gather data on the topic for the grant proposal. It's not exactly 100% data analysis or fieldwork, but would it "count" as significant research experience? 

My thought was that although I'm probably not going to be actually conducting research next semester it would be a good experience in learning what it takes to earn a grant to conduct research, and especially worth it because it's related to educational institutions. As for my experience this semester, it's  related to family/child welfare overseas, so I would be able to frame it as being insightful in terms of cross-cultural insight into the specific topic.

I'd appreciate any and all feedback!

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In the social sciences (academia), literature reviews make up only one portion of what constitutes standard academic research. Such papers typically have sections that examine an interesting question, fill a gap in existing scholarship, and follow the scientific method. Unlike the hard sciences, however, it is possible to conduct top-tier research without resorting to quantitative analysis, or working with programs like Q, STATA, and SPSS. Most undergraduate research is conducted on a qualitative level, either through case studies, discourse analysis, ethnography, etc. There are many ways you can conduct research in this field. 

The lit review is arguably the least "research-intensive" section of a research paper. It shapes the conceptual framework within which you will conduct your analysis and present your findings. What you will be doing next semester - posing a question, forming a hypothesis, and gathering data - aligns more closely with what many consider significant research experience. 

Outside of academia, the definition for "research" is a bit more broad. An op-ed or feature piece published by the Wall Street Journal, for example, may be more valued than a paper published in an undergraduate journal. Likewise, there are reports on social welfare, urban migration, and cross-cultural communication produced by think tanks and research institutions which may not contain a methodology or quantitative evidence. These reports will be well-cited but may be published separately in academia, or in primers/monthly booklets issued to subscribers. All are valued as relevant experience. In fact, in the professional world, such experience may be more valuable than academic research. I would be seriously impressed by any undergraduate that has produced work for the Congressional Research Service, for example. 

Anyone with more experience publishing in the field may feel free to chime in. My experience is based off several methods courses on polysci/IR I took as an undergrad, op-eds/presentations published in newspapers, and feedback from my professors. 


tl;dr: It depends on the context. In academia, research is more inclusive and follows a template. Outside of academia, research is much more broad. Your proposed project will count as research, so long as you actually do some original work outside of the lit review. 

Edited by StyLeD
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