How Undergraduate Research Helps Students Open Pathways for Success

For many students, college is a time of self-discovery. A time to explore your passions, form career goals, and decide on your next steps. This was certainly true for Audrey Garcia, a third-year studying comparative literature and philosophy at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). 

With her graduation date quickly approaching, Audrey had some major choices to make. For instance, while Audrey knew that she wanted to apply for graduate school, she wasn’t sure which programs to apply to or where to focus her studies. These questions would put her on a path to discover UCI’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).

Audrey recalls, “I discovered UROP last year through my professor, Jane Newman. She called me in and suggested I start research to see what I wanted to pursue in graduate school and directed me to the UROP office.” 

UROP, operating under the Division of Undergraduate Education, helps undergraduates from all schools and academic disciplines explore research opportunities. As a leading research university, UCI offers a variety of research opportunities for students across all majors and schools. In addition to supporting on-campus research initiatives, UROP also connects students to research opportunities from outside agencies, including national laboratories, industrial partners, and other universities. The main goal of UROP is to help students explore the world of academic research and collaborate with faculty on creative and research projects.

Audrey partnered with Professor Newman, who is recognized by both the School of Humanities and UROP for her excellence in undergraduate research mentorship, as her faculty advisor. With her support, Audrey began a research project comparing a manga adaptation of Les Misérables to the original literary classic. Audrey explains, “By asking questions centered on the thematics of the narrative and its potential for entering world literature, I aim to understand the implications behind the transition from novel to manga.”

According to Audrey, the research she is doing through UROP is helping her take important steps towards reaching her future goals. “I’m hoping that the UROP program allows me to become a stronger graduate applicant,” she says. “UROP is also prepping me to become an experienced researcher.”

When asked if she would recommend UROP to her fellow UCI students, Audrey reveals that she already has. To her friends who are interested in research, she describes the program as “A research opportunity that is manageable and a great way to start to learn how to conduct academic research.”

While Audrey acknowledges that the idea of pursuing research as an undergraduate seems intimidating, she emphasizes how welcoming the UROP staff has been to her. In fact, her positive experience working with UROP has even given her the confidence to expand her research network. “The advisors are very accessible,” she explains, “and this has made me reach out to new professors, even ones outside UCI.” 

Even now, as UCI students and faculty move to a remote university environment, Audrey explains that UROP continues to offer much-needed support. “In the midst of the pandemic, it was difficult moving home from Irvine and adjusting to online classes,” she admits. “Deadlines are already looming in the near future and all the changes have made it difficult to keep everything in order.” 

Fortunately, UROP is taking steps to reduce some of the pressure on students as they adapt to the abrupt transition. Audrey emphasizes, “The UROP office was understanding and provided extensions for my research given the circumstances.”  With some of the weight lifted off her shoulders, Audrey happily reports, “I am finally finding my sense of routine.”

While juggling her academic and research objectives amidst the COVID-19 epidemic admittedly adds to Audrey’s stress, she remains adamant that discovering UROP is one of the most beneficial aspects of her time as an undergraduate at UCI. In her words, “I am ecstatic about finding this opportunity as it helped me figure out what I would like to pursue after I graduate.”

According to UROP’s Director Said Shokair, pursuing research is an excellent way for students to cope with the stress of the current situation while also helping them think about their future. He explains, 

“I encourage students to engage with the research process as an excellent pathway to energize their interests and bring them some normalcy during these challenging times. Collaborating with faculty mentors will empower them to pursue their passions and make better decisions. We are committed to supporting their journeys.”

For Audrey, the future is full of possibilities. “I’m planning on applying to graduate school for an M.A./PhD program this upcoming Fall,” Audrey says. With her current research inspiring her future study, Audrey reports, “I hope to participate in a cultural studies program with a focus on nationalism and comics.”

If you are a UCI student that is interested in learning more about UROP and how the program can help you explore the world of academic research, then visit UROP’s website here or reach out to the UROP team at urop@uci.edu.