“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. It is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.”
Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road
Hurston has identified the driving force behind some of the best undergraduate research projects at Penn. Whether motivated by intellectual curiosity or a longing for academic enhancement, undergraduate students at all levels and from all schools can strike out on their own and shape their education to fit their intellectual interests. Undergraduate research is not limited to a “type.” All students in all fields can and have benefited enormously from research experience.
Academic course work provides the solid core of each discipline. Individual scholarly exploration takes coursework a step further, by allowing a young scholar to investigate the exciting topics in the “not-yet-known” areas of a discipline. Students use coursework to acquire knowledge in a given discipline; they use research to complement that knowledge and to delve more deeply into fascinating questions that remain unanswered.
Whether designing one’s own project or participating as a team member on a faculty member’s research team, a student researcher is in a position to make a significant contribution to the world of knowledge. She has the ability to discover facts that are included in textbooks for the next generation to study and learn. Research also provides crucial insight into the inner workings of a discipline. This is of particular importance to a freshman or sophomore considering a major, or a junior or senior preparing for graduate school or starting their professional career. An independent project provides tremendous practical training in problem-solving and critical thinking, and entails exactly the kind of work all Penn graduates will be doing in the twenty-first century.