Is Research for You?

Whatever the type or setting, all research is motivated by the quest to gain new knowledge.

Some research is applied and may ultimately lead to the betterment of people’s lives in New York State, the nation, and the world. Other research is at a basic level and can lead to a revolutionary change in the way we think. Only you will be able to determine if you want to get involved in research.

Research – Many Places, Many Approaches

There are many kinds of research done by undergraduates at Cornell. Cornell has many excellent scientist and engineers, with well equipped and staffed laboratories, but other faculty may work outdoors in nature or with people in their community. Research is done in schools and hospitals; in libraries and collections and museums. Some research is done in front of a computer screen or with expensive equipment. Research can be done almost everywhere. It is done here in Ithaca, in the United States, in other countries and in space! Where your research happens is up to you and your interests.

Research Is Team-Oriented

Often research is done by teams of people with different expertise and experience. Undergraduate students may join teams composed of faculty members, graduate students, post-doctoral students, and others. A research experience can provide lasting ties to faculty members and other team members, along with helping students learn to become part of a research team.

Non-scientists do research too.

One of the greatest myths about research is that only scientists can do research. The truth of the matter is that research is fundamental to all fields of scholarship. All faculty at Cornell are leaders in the research done in their discipline. Professors in the humanities and social sciences have supported undergraduate researchers for years. There are also many interdisciplinary projects that transcend majors and departments.

Underclassmen can explore research opportunities.

Many first-year and second-year students decide to explore research by volunteering on projects and networking to meet faculty. Through this process, they develop necessary skills and move on to more independent positions during their junior and senior years. Take your schedule into consideration and allow yourself a good transition to college. Get involved in undergraduate research when you’re ready.

Research can lead you to become a student for life. It teaches the acumen for solving some of life’s greatest mysteries.

It’s ok to pursue research outside your major!

Cornell, with a strong focus on research, has ample opportunities for you to pursue your interests. Pursuing research outside of your major and department is a great chance to explore and become well-rounded. Often, you’ll find the techniques and principles applied in one field relate to another. Interdisciplinary synthesis is a powerful tool. It’s a skill you’ll use once you leave Cornell.

Can I do research in another country?

Many Cornell faculty are involved in research in other countries that you may be able to help with. In addition, the Cornell Study Abroad office may be able to advise you about programs that include research projects.

Do I Have to Do Research?

No. Participating in undergraduate research at Cornell is not a requirement- it is on opportunity that you can choose to take part in. Research can be both wonderful and really frustrating. Research involves long hours and days in the library, lab, or the field, often without positive results. Research should be done because you are really interested in the topic. Most researchers work for many, many years on a question.

There are many ways—other than research—to be involved in intellectual work at Cornell:

  • Join a student club
  • Take upperlevel or graduate classes in your field
  • Take classes in subjects that you are really interested in- but that are not in your major
  • Work with not-for- profits in Ithaca through the Public Service Center
  • Explore opportunities at the Cornell Career Center

If you are interested in medicine, be forewarned that there is limited biomedical research in Ithaca. Consider spending a summer doing research in a teaching or research hospital.


You never know when the research bug will bite. Don’t rush into it. Do it when and if it fits your goals and your schedule.

Making Money

If you have financial aid that includes work-study, you may want to look at research assistant jobs listed on the Jobs at Cornell webpage. Many students start research by performing paid tasks and then working their way into higher level positions. If you have previous experience, and are competent in research techniques (including programming and statistics), there will be positions looking to pay you for your expertise.