Undergraduate Research Experience: Not Only Valuable for Students Thinking of Graduate School

I was compelled to write today’s blog because I was discussing academic matters with a student this morning, and an issue came up that I just had to write about.

The student I was talking with is in a Psychology Honors program, but she wants to get out. She still wants to get her baccalaureate in Psychology, but she does not plan to go on to grad school, so she has decided that there is no point in doing the research thesis that is part of the Honors program. She just wants to graduate as a Psychology major, then go out and get some kind of job. She has no illusion about the unlikely chances of ever having a job in a psychology-related field — she knows you have to go on to grad school and get a Ph.D. to become a psychologist. She feels that she has been in school long enough, and its time to join the “real world.”

I certainly understand her position. Grad school is not for everyone; in fact, it really only makes sense for a small minority of people, whereas most college-educated folks are better off just entering the workforce (or trying to) after they get a bachelor’s degree. I have no doubt that the student I was speaking with this morning is making the right decision about not pursuing grad school after she finishes her undergraduate program.

But, she is dead wrong about one thing, at least. She’s wrong about the notion that undergraduate research experience is valuable only for those who are planning to go on to graduate school. In fact, I would argue that the benefits of a substantial undergraduate research experience (like that which comes from doing an Honors project and writing a thesis) are just as significant for those students who simply want to find a good job after college.

Why? Because most employers are not only interested in finding job applicants with a college education, they are most keenly interested in hiring applicants with certain abilities or talents, a good work ethic, and strong interpersonal skills. There is no better way for students to demonstrate that they have these qualities than by getting involved in the research being conducted by their professors. When a student carries out an undergraduate research project and writes a paper or report, it usually provides at least one professor a chance to evaluate the student’s work ethic, ability to work with others, ability to work independently, emotional stability and maturity, integrity, intelligence, personality, and other good qualities that employers are looking for in job applicants. Without significant undergraduate research experience, on the other hand, most students who graduate with their baccalaureate will finish college and begin looking for employment with no advantages over their peers. And one definitely needs advantages in the job market these days.


  1. Great post! It’s also worth mentioning that you never know when making valuable connections might come in handy; while a student might not want to go on to graduate study now, experience in the “real world” might change their minds, depending on their experience.

    Feel free to check out my blog about my own experiences as a graduate student and doctoral program applicant: http://thenewpsychologist.wordpress.com



  2. Hello!

    I am so happy to have stumbled across your blog. I can so easily relate to the student you spoke of. Also, I am happy to see that she was able to pin down her “plans” so easily. I wasn’t so lucky. I just started a blog about my experiences that you may find interesting. Here is the link if you’d like to check it out: http://2daysingradschool.blogspot.com/

    Thanks for the insightful post!



    1. Hi Cara!

      Thanks for your comments. I enjoyed reading your first post. Your decision to back away from grad school right now, as difficult as it may have been to make, is not uncommon.

      It was for that reason, that I wrote this article: ” Are you ready for grad school” http://mygraduateschool.com/areyoureadyforgrad.html for the MyGraduateSchool.com
      I wrote it a few months back for all those students wondering about what it takes to get into grad school, but more importantly to shed some light on what it takes to succeed once in grad school. Good luck to you and keep me posted on your developments!



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