Identifying Your Area of Interest

The most important ingredient in a successful research project is the passion of the researcher: what is it that makes YOU want to learn more?

Before you find a specific research opportunity, use your early semesters at Washington University to explore your interests and learn about different approaches to knowledge.

Take some time to think about what it is about a particular field or a burning question that interests you. Some students come to Washington University with a clear idea of what they want to study and what they want to do after earning their degree. Many students wait until the very last moment to declare a major. Most students fall somewhere in between. No matter where you are on this spectrum, the Office of Undergraduate Research can start you on a path to finding a research opportunity in a field that interests you.

Possible Research Areas

The Arts

While researchers in academic disciplines work to construct new knowledge based on facts, artists and designers seek to create aesthetic works of design or performance.

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Humanities

Humanists study the human experience though deep analysis of cultural products.

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Natural Sciences

Natural scientists study physical, biological, and chemical properties and processes.

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Social Sciences

Social science is an umbrella term covering a variety of academic disciplines that seek to explain human behavior, either from the internal perspective (psychology, economics), group dynamics (sociology, business, political science), or broad cultural forces (anthropology)

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Develop Your Topic

  • The Washington University Libraries have a thorough online guide on conducting research, as well as research guides for specific subject areas, offering research assistance, subject guides, and useful resources compiled by your friendly WashU librarians.

  • Faculty and staff in your department (a favorite instructor, the director of undergraduate studies, your advisor) or anyone else in your field will have lots of ideas about new areas of research and current opportunities. Upperclassmen in your dorm, fraternity or sorority can also be a good source of information.

  • Arts & Sciences hosts a podcast exploring the many ways that researchers tackle issues affecting individuals, societies, and our worldwide community. Hold That Thought provides glimpses of the work currently being carried out at WashU that could serve as inspiration for undergraduate researchers.

  • If you have not yet declared a major, never fear! Take time to talk to fellow students, teaching assistants and faculty in more than one discipline to gain a full understanding of what research in their field is all about. You never know where your interests may take you as you move through your studies.

  • Spend a semester having informational interviews, making connections, and gathering information. That way, when you're ready to begin looking for a mentor and planning a research project, you'll know what you're talking about.

  • Come to OUR events such as the Undergraduate Research Symposium and meet faculty and student researchers in all disciplines.

  • The Office of Undergraduate Research can help point you in the right direction. Schedule an appointment to come talk with us!

Once you have established your field of interest and possibly a couple of ideas about research topics, you're ready to start looking for a WashU faculty member to serve as your mentor.