What Is Undergraduate Research?

girl in class looking in microscope

Research is driven by human curiosity and can advance civilization through life-changing discoveries. Contrary to what many think to be a quick Google search, research takes on a whole new meaning in college. In higher education, research stems from an inquisitive mind to investigate a topic and find practical solutions to problems. Generally, students join ongoing projects and engage in research work under the guidance of a faculty mentor. The research work includes scholarly activities such as literature reviews of journal articles on the topic, formulating research questions, constructing hypotheses and conducting experiments to obtain data.

The results are then analyzed and discussed in light of published findings to conclude the study with applications that can help solve the research problem. Thus, through systematic study, critical thinking and problem-solving, undergraduates can develop essential skills that can help prepare them for future academic and professional endeavors.1

If you're interested in undergraduate research, let's talk! What is undergraduate research? Why do undergraduate research? Research is an integral part of the academic growth and development of science students.2 Engaging in scientific research early on during your undergraduate studies can expand experiential learning outside the constraints of conventional coursework and classroom settings. The primary goal of the Research and Design Program (RDP) at Grand Canyon University is to help you find your purpose, and pursue your interests in graduate and medical school programs, internships and careers. So, keep reading as we dive into the details of undergraduate research in GCU’s College of Natural Sciences.

In This Article: 

Why Is Undergraduate Research Important? 

Undergraduate research activities involve the application of theoretical knowledge taught in courses. Students can gain hands-on experience by learning methods and techniques for a better understanding of the subject matter. They are exposed to technologies and get a taste of practical research. This active learning helps students develop skills and experiences that may be valuable to prospective employers.

Engaging in research not only provides students with a competitive edge in the job market but also plays a role in academic achievements due to improvement in learning and critical thinking.3 Additionally, students get to work and interact with professors outside the classroom. This can provide them with opportunities for mentorship and networking with other students who have similar academic interests. According to one survey, students find undergraduate research intellectually stimulating as it prepares them for future challenges by offering them a set of skills that can be used for solving realistic problems.4

Benefits of Undergraduate Research 

As noted above, there are several benefits to students engaging in research at the undergraduate level.5 Even if you are not considering graduate school, you may still stand to gain from undergraduate research in the following ways:

  • Academic success: Research develops creativity, critical thinking, hard work and confidence ― which can help with better performance and higher achievement for undergraduate students. GCU student Emily Branch, who delved into testing extracts from Sonoran Desert plants to see if they might hold the secret to the next big cure, received three job offers in healthcare administration even before she graduated.
  • Career and professional goals: Through hands-on experience in an unstructured environment of a research project, students might discover their interests, freely ask and answer questions, and gain clarity about the choice of degree programs and career paths they wish to pursue. GCU graduate Weston DeCambra, who is currently pursuing his doctoral studies at a state university, explained how undergraduate research helped him discover his life’s passion.
  • Resume and letter of recommendation: By immersing themselves in research projects, students can develop a sense of ownership and pride. Including research experience in resumes can highlight technical skills (like data interpretation and statistical analysis), soft skills (such as collaboration, critical thinking and teamwork) and their corresponding impact. Besides, it helps find mentors to provide recommendations and advice to support their achievement.
  • Communication skills: Research is not just staring at bacterial cells under a microscope. It also develops the ability to communicate ― both oral and written — when students present at conferences and publish in peer-reviewed journals. GCU’s biology major Foxx Walz, won the best undergraduate poster presentation award at the American Society for Microbiology conference in 2023.
  • Jobs, graduate or professional school: Research experience is an important qualification that can help students get a leg up on their interviews to get a job or admission into the academic program of choice. GCU student Daniela Barrera, shared about her undergraduate experience, working independently in the lab and when interviewers asked about her research during her medical school interview.

Needless to say, research skills can apply to all jobs and life in general because they help students become well-rounded, intellectual, and effective leaders who are poised to excel in both academia and the workforce.

How To Get Involved in Undergraduate Research

The College of Natural Sciences at GCU can provide various research opportunities, and here are some simple steps to help you guide and join undergraduate research:

  1. Explore the opportunities: Visit the College of Natural Sciences research page to learn about the research opportunities. 
  2. Identify your interests: Check out the different research labs to see what fits your interests. Some of the projects are interdisciplinary and include multiple disciplines.
  3. Network with peers: Talk to other students who might have similar academic interests, ask questions and gather information. Attend symposiums and watch student and faculty presentations to decide which lab to join.
  4. Contact the professor: You can initiate the process by reaching out to your professor by email. Introduce yourself briefly and include your major and year in college. Schedule an appointment to meet and learn more about the project.
  5. Know the expectations: Do your homework before the meeting and come prepared to explain why you are interested in that particular project. Be sure to get a clear understanding of the time commitment and other expectations for research.
  6. Follow up to confirm: Send a reminder email to express your interest in joining the professor’s lab and ask for resources about the information you received during your office visit.
  7. Register and join: Use the link provided by the research professor to officially join the Research and Design Program (RDP).

Faith and Science in Undergraduate Research

In the vast realm of research, the relationship between science and religion has ranged from conflict and hostility to harmony and collaboration.6 Is it possible to reconcile belief in God with the pursuit of scientific knowledge? The integration of faith and science poses unique challenges in the context of higher education as religious people are less likely to engage in scientific research.7 This dynamic is reversed at GCU, the largest Christian university in the United States, where we are intentional about integrating the Christian worldview into the study of all disciplines.

At the heart of GCU is the College of Natural Sciences which stands out as an academic community to value both faith and scientific inquiry. By integrating scientific discovery and a Christ-centered culture, we provide all students the opportunity to transform the world, promote human flourishing and glorify God through their service to others.

Research in the Antimicrobial Discovery Lab

The RDPs at GCU offers a variety of projects for students to choose from and explore their research interests. For example, the goal of the Antimicrobial Discovery Lab is the evaluation and characterization of antimicrobial compounds from diverse plants to address the need for safe and effective antimicrobial agents against drug-resistant pathogens. The awareness of microbial infections and the use of plant derivates as a form of treatment did not originate in the science lab but people have been practicing the use of natural remedies since ancient biblical times (2 Kings 20:7). 

In fact, the Bible mentions the use of medicinal plants for healing diseases: "And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing,” (Ezekiel 47:12 ESV). Thus, the Antimicrobial Discovery Lab has evolved into a unique research hub that provides a platform for the study of science and scripture.

The American Scientific Affiliation Student Chapter

In addition to your research endeavors as an undergraduate student at GCU, you have the opportunity to be a part of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) student chapter. The ASA is the largest organization of Christians who are also scientists and seek to promote the integration of faith and science within Christian communities. Under the guidance of faculty members who integrate their faith into their scientific pursuits, students are encouraged to explore the compatibility of their beliefs with the work they are engaged in. 

Through the GCU ASA chapter, undergraduate students can engage in discussions, seminars and conferences that explore topics (such as Microbiology Through the Lens of the Bible: Antimicrobial Products From Sonoran Desert Plants) on the interface between faith and scientific perspectives. Moreover, students get the opportunity to present their research work at the ASA annual conferences and network with Christians who are scientists and scholars in science education. 

Equipping Future Science Professionals

By integrating faith and science, the College of Natural Sciences aims to foster a supportive community that encourages students to investigate the amalgamation of faith and science. Faculty members provide mentorship, creating an environment where students can freely express their beliefs and seek answers to complex questions. This sense of community can contribute to a comprehensive educational experience for undergraduate students.

It allows them to develop a well-rounded perspective that goes beyond scientific knowledge, fostering critical thinking skills, ethical awareness and an appreciation for the value of human life. By embracing the compatibility of faith and scientific research pursuits, GCU's students in science majors are taught the tools needed to make a positive impact in the world, serving their communities with competence, compassion and integrity.

Complete Undergraduate Research at GCU

To conclude, undergraduate research cultivates a culture of intellectual inquiry, collaboration and discovery, that can empower students to not just passively consume knowledge but actively contribute to creating knowledge in their field of study. The College of Natural Sciences at GCU presents a transformative educational experience for students.

Through undergraduate research projects and involvement in the American Scientific Affiliation, you will be taught a comprehensive education that can prepare you for your future careers while nurturing your spiritual growth. If you are interested in research, what are you waiting for? Complete the form on this page to speak to a university counselor today.

1 Jung, A. P. and Petrella, J.K. (2008, July 15). Undergraduate Research: Importance, Benefits, and Challenges. National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved on Feb. 11, 2024. 

2 Burmeister, A. R., Dickinson, K. and Graham, M.J. (2021, June 30). Bridging Trade-Offs between Traditional and Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences by Building Student Communication Skills, Identity, and Interest. AMS Journals. Retrieved on Feb. 11, 2024.

Ayala, P., Bowers, G.K., Stormes, K.N., Streicker, N.A. and Urizar, G.G. (2023, March 10). Impact of Undergraduate Research Training Programs: An Illustrative Example of Finding a Comparison Group and Evaluating Academic and Graduate School Outcomes. National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved on Feb. 11, 2024.

American Society for Engineering Education (2016, June 26-29). Importance of Undergraduate Research: Efficacy and Student Perceptions. Retrieved on Feb. 11, 2024.

Adebisi, Y.A. (2022, Aug. 17). Undergraduate students' involvement in research: Values, benefits, barriers and recommendations. National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved on Feb. 11, 2024. 

Pew Research. (2020, Aug. 26). On the Intersection of Science and Religion. Retrieved on Feb. 18, 2024.

Approved by Dr. Daisy Savarirajan on April 18, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.