Research: scary task or summer topic?

How Hamline’s summer research program provides opportunities for a unique learning experience.

Dean Young, Columnist

Dean Young

Research. The word hangs with a damp pallor and a foreboding presence, ready to strike fear into the heart of any upright student. It is necessary in the same way taxes are necessary; though, unlike taxes, it doesn’t just come once a year. The clamorous poltergeist appears with alarming frequency, vanishing only as a promise of sudden return with the next project, whatever it may be. It comes and goes, save during the few months of summer repose; during this period, it sticks around full-time. 

At least, it can – and I would suggest, it ought to. Far from a frightening task, summer collaborative research at Hamline may well be one of the most enjoyable, stimulating and thought-provoking endeavors you participate in at Hamline. It was for me.

We often make research to be some sort of terrifying endeavor or insurmountable task, a job to be avoided at all costs. It certainly can be, though often it is due to competing deadlines, stale subject material or a general sense of directionlessness. Summer research, however, is a different beast – if it can be styled a beast at all. Unlike school-year projects, you are in control: you pick the topic you want to research.

Think of your favorite topic, the idea in your field of study that made you want to major in it. Think of the details surrounding the topic, and the potential connections woven through it. Now imagine having weeks dedicated to uncovering these connections with one-on-one guidance from a faculty member – often while being paid. This is what awaits you this summer. This is research.

Some are concerned that their field of study does not do research; this stereotype is perpetuated by the notion that research is only performed while wearing a lab coat. The concept of a major being “outside of ” research can be readily dispensed; every area of study that Hamline offers, as well as a multitude more, have journals dedicated to research just in that subject. A cursory glance of topics from the Hamline research symposium this fall display the point: political science to physics, economics to environmental studies all are mines of research topics. 

Some might decide they would like to do research, but ask, why this summer? Particularly for first-years and sophomores, we get started now?

Perhaps a better question is, why not? Exploring research now means the possibility of two or possibly three more summers open and available. These can be dedicated to further research on one’s topic (which can be developed into an Honors thesis) or a transition to a new topic (perhaps even a new area of study, if double-majoring). For the graduate school bound, it displays prior experience and knowledge of research, and for the job bound, it gives a competitive edge, a “golden star” on the resume. It can be used to obtain a Hamline plan P and to free up a future summer for an internship or study abroad. Regardless of one’s intent, the time to apply is now.

Research opportunities come in a number of forms, and I highly recommend Hamline’s Summer Collaborative Undergraduate Research (SCUR) program. It is interdisciplinary and funded, and allows you to work with professors you already know. The weekly meetings are a highlight: a roundtable of excited and motivated students sharing their research topic from all sorts of disciplines. The deadline to apply is a while off, but the process of meeting with an advisor and drafting a proposal starts now.

From my summers of research, I have gained a laundry list of skills, close connections to professors and close friendships. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything, and I hope you join the ranks of students this summer doing research. I would encourage you to talk to any students who have been part of the SCUR program for more details. Chances are, after giving it a try, you will start looking forward to each summer, when research returns full time.