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You’ve been tasked with completing a research project and are excited to get started. But after spending days struggling over where to begin, you’re feeling overwhelmed and wondering how to get your research idea off the ground.

To help provide insight and reveal how one university is helping its students create impactful and relevant research projects, we spoke with Mary Beth Curtin, Assistant Vice President for Strategic Research Initiatives in the Office for the Vice President for Research, at Binghamton University of New York.

With 23 organized research centers, Binghamton University, State University of New York is renowned as one of the top public research universities in the U.S. for its facilities, partnerships, and research opportunities.

The University’s research directly supports the academic work of over 1,000 full-time faculty and 3,500 graduate students. Binghamton University is uniquely positioned to offer research opportunities across dozens of academic disciplines. Designated as an RI institution with “very high research activity,” the campus attracts about $50 million in external research funding annually. “Binghamton University maintains a mid-sized institution while simultaneously employing over 1,000 research faculty, which means nearly all graduate students are afforded opportunities to participate in funded research,” Curtin said.

“Research serves as a focal point for academic inquiry as students, faculty, and staff members work to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues, ranging from anthropological work on Easter Island to fundamental improvements in lithium ion batteries.”

* This article is sponsored by Binghamton University.

Identify your research topic

The first step in the research process is selecting a topic, which can be one of the more challenging tasks of the project.

Here are some tips for selecting the perfect topic:

  • Choose a topic of personal interest to you and learn as much as you can about it.
  • Ensure that you can find enough information about your topic by doing a preliminary search of sources. 
  • A topic that includes too much information may need to be narrowed down in scope. 
  • Be original! If possible, find a topic that distinguishes you from the same research ideas your instructor reads every year.
  • If you’re still struggling to find an idea, reach out to your advisor or instructor.

“Students should begin by discussing their research interest with their faculty advisor,” said Curtin. “Faculty will be able to help them with any questions and guidelines to inform their research.”

Locate resources

There are several credible resources available to assist you with your research projects, including books, brochures, journals, magazines, scholarly articles, newspapers, reputable websites, databases, and journals. You can also conduct your own field research where you collect data through observation, experimentation, interviews, or surveys. 

“Numerous opportunities exist for undergraduate students to pursue research and scholarly or creative work in their disciplines. In addition to financial and logistical support from Binghamton University, a wide variety of grants, fellowships, awards, internships from external sources is available, including support provided by museums, libraries, archives, laboratories, and research foundations. The Office of Undergraduate Research works with students to match them up with research opportunities.”

Organize your data

Take the data you have collected and organize it. Create a rough draft to illustrate your ideas. Although unfinished, this step will help you organize your ideas and determine the format your final report will take. Make sure to cite your sources properly (many students use MLA or APA styles). Most importantly, proofread your work, checking for spelling, punctuation, and grammar issues. Has your hypothesis been clearly stated with supporting data to prove or disprove it? Revise your draft as necessary to create a final product that’s ready to submit to your instructor.

Overcoming obstacles

What should students do if they hit a major roadblock during their research project? Curtin advises students to reach out to faculty members who are available to help them solve any issues they may encounter while working on their research project. 

Careers in research 

If you enjoy working on research projects, you may consider a career in the research field. But, how do you know if you’re equipped for a future career in research? 

Successful research students should have an analytical mind,” Curtin said. “They should be determined and committed to their projects. They should be curious and questioning of research results. At the same time, they should be able to communicate their findings and methods clearly.”

Need help finding the right graduate program for you? Check out Peterson’s Grad School search tool.

 Related: Writing a Research Paper at Colleges and Universities