Undergraduate learning isn’t the whole picture


Undergraduate students typically view the University as an institution in which we take classes and eventually earn a degree. But in actuality, that’s only a component of what this University does. Thinking of the University in that way overlooks the groundbreaking research efforts that are made in every department on campus year-round.

This is not to say that the University does not approach the education of its students with the upmost seriousness. We receive a phenomenal education here; I am not attempting to dispute that.

But I’ve heard more than a fair share of students complain about having professors or TAs who are more interested in research than teaching, when in reality these complaints can belittle the necessity of university research. To be absolutely clear, I am not drawing a correlation to imply that good researchers are bad teachers or that good teachers are bad researchers.

A University like ours offers a great deal more than just educating its students. It’s also about making enormous and important advancements in the faculty members’ respective fields.

A few days ago, I walked around the Quad asking students for their opinions on the importance of faculty research.

The general consensus was actually that faculty research helps our professors become better teachers.

Nicole Curtis, sophomore in LAS, felt that “faculty research is important because it gives the faculty something to be passionate about.”

Similarly, Nora Marino, sophomore in LAS, said that having well-researched professors enhances the education that students at this university get.

“It’s important … because it expands what they can teach their students and the education that everyone can receive,” Marino said.

Some students considered the importance of faculty research a given. Crofton Coleman, junior in FAA, laughed when he answered the question.

“It’s a research school, right? So they should be researching,” Coleman said.

This is supposed to be one of the best research institutions in the country, and the research accomplished is indicative of our status.

For instance, educational psychology professor Dorothy Espelage recently coauthored a study evaluating a program that successfully decreased bullying by students with disabilities.

That study could have huge implications for educational methods as well as decreasing bullying in schools across the country.

In the medicinal realm, chemistry professor Paul Hergenrother and veterinary clinical medicine professor Timothy Fan are beginning human clinical trials with a drug that could one day cause cancerous cells in humans to self-destruct while keeping the rest of the patient healthy.

The important, potential results of research on cancer treatments speak for themselves.

Another issue that’s close to the hearts of many college students, if more frivolous, is the fact that associate professor Yong-Su Jin in Food Science and Human Nutrition recently developed a way to produce hangover free wine.

These are three of the many, many fascinating and critical research projects from the University of Illinois.

This aspect of the University isn’t always as accessible to undergraduate students, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are a variety of paths open to students who are interested in participating with research on campus. Students can ask a professor if they need any assistance with their work, complete independent studies or theses with professors, and submit research to undergraduate journals on campus.

If you’re looking for guidance on how to get your own undergraduate research underway, visit the Illinois Office for Undergraduate Research.

In my experience, professors enjoy discussing their research and passions. Oftentimes, they also present it, and those presentations are usually open to the public.

As strange as it may seem to its actual students, the University of Illinois is dedicated to more than just its student population, so stay in the know about new research developments going on here so you can be proud of the breakthroughs that our university is making.

Alex is a junior in LAS.

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