GRE scores, GPA, transcripts, letters of recommendation, quality of undergrad school, admission essay / personal statement, research, and even where you live can all impact your admission chances. Some of those factors are completely beyond your control and others are somewhat controllable.
But, there is one factor that can greatly improve your chances of being accepted, and you can completely control it. That factor is research experience.
Research experience is not required to apply to graduate school. But, it has become increasingly more popular, to the point where if you don’t have a project, it hurts your chances.
Research can be especially beneficial for fields that are constantly adapting like science and technology, but it may not be as important for constant fields like mathematics. But, it can still improve your chances. Follow these tips to produce a strong research project:
Become a research assistant: Just about every student applying has a research project, and it’s painfully obvious when students are submitting one just for the sake of having it. But, as a research assistant, you will work with others (mostly professors, possibly other undergrad/grad students) and have more resources. You will also be held accountable for the outcome of the project, which can create better results.
If you assist in completing a great research project, you may even be asked to join in on another project. Ultimately, becoming a research assistant shows a genuine commitment and interest, as opposed to doing research because you heard it can help your chances. Not to mention, you might get paid for it.
Collaborate: Technically, it could look better on your application if you create a great research project with strong, practical findings all by yourself. But, this is probably your first try at research. So, partner with others. At the very least, you should work with one professor. But, if you can find a group of 3-5 people you can craft a better, more significant project. Most grad schools would rather see a great group research project than a mediocre sole project. It also shows grad schools that you can work well in groups, which is a major bonus.
Start early: Start making contacts with professors as early as your freshman year of undergrad because it might take a few years to put together your project. A lot of students complete their first research project during their freshman/sophomore years, and then supplement it with additional projects. Imagine being able to tell a grad school that you have been researching a certain topic for the past 3-4 years.
Choose a relevant topic: If your project can actually impact the industry you’re writing about, you’re going to have one of if not the best projects in the entire applicant pool. It’s very difficult to create a project of that caliber. But, make sure yours is important to your industry.
Spend time writing: You may have been living with this project for over six months and know everything about it. But, the grad schools you’re applying to won’t; so make sure you are clear and concise. They have hundreds of other projects to read too; so they probably won’t spend extra time trying to figure out what yours is about. Consider the following structure to help your readers understand your project as quickly as possible:
1. Abstract section: State your hypothesis and how it could impact current industrial operations. Make sure you include completed works by other researchers and how your research builds off theirs or differs from theirs. That will help your reader better understand both your project and the current industrial state.
2. Introduction: Briefly state your basic findings and what factors you considered to reach those findings. Again, mention how your project works with existing research in chemistry, biology, etc. Briefly state how you set up your experiment and direct your reader to further sections for more information. Chances are, the admissions group will not read past your “Abstract” and “Introduction” section; so make sure they can understand the gist of your entire project through those sections.
3. Model: Write about how you set up the project, what your independent/dependent variables were and what you deem to be a significant result. You want to exhaust all possible confounding variables that may affect your outcome, which can enhance your credibility. Try to have multiple tests to reach the same conclusion, adding more support. This section can be a little bit longer than the previous two because you want to fully explain how you scientifically tried to prove or disprove your hypotheses. You do not need to state your findings in this section.
4. Solution/findings: This section seems basic, but it is not. You should state the most plausible outcome of your research; however, do not try to prove it as fact. You simply want to state the likelihood of your results, and you need to list all possible outcomes. You can’t just write, “based on our model, it is fair to conclude that ___________.” Most research does not state absolutes. At best, it states what can be “inferred” or “assumed” from the experiment. Again, you need to list any confounding factors that may have affected your outcome and write a paragraph about each. Include models, graphs and charts. We offer incredible sciences tutors who have extensive research experience and could help you.
You’re not going to do perfect research during undergrad. In fact, very few can actually create perfect research. You just need to be as objective as possible.
6. Conclusion: Restate your hypothesis, how you tried to prove or disprove it (model) and what you found. This section should be fairly brief, but you need to include the industrial implications of your research. Answer this question: why is this important?