4 Tips on how to Describe your Undergraduate Research Experience on your Resume


Written by Sean Roberts, Undergraduate Research Ambassador

Creating, editing, and sending out your resume can be very stressful; especially when its for a position that you really want. Describing your undergraduate research (UR) experience on your resume is a great way to make you stand out from the crowd of other applicants. Including your UR experience comes with its own challenges; but the four tips below will make sure the skills you developed from your UR experience shine through.

1. Create a detailed list of what you have done during your UR experience

Before attempting to describe your UR experience to employers, first create a detailed list of what you have done and accomplished in your experience. Think about specific tasks and accomplishments you have achieved, and think about skills that you have developed from your involvement. This list will help clarify the many things you can talk about on your resume.

2. Tailor your experience for the application

Including all aspects of your UR experience may sound good on paper, but identifying a few key accomplishments and skills from your research will allow more clarity and more room to describe your experience. Selecting the skills and achievements that best align with the desired position are a great way to convey how your previous experience will make you well prepared for the desired position.

3. Keep your audience in mind

Discussing your UR experience in detail can be the standout part of your resume, but only if your audience has the background knowledge to understand that experience. When describing your UR experience keep the audience that will be reading your resume in mind. For example, if you had a chemical engineering research experience, but are currently applying for a business internship, discussing your research with specific words and phrases may create confusion. Discussing the transferable skills that you learned, such as critical thinking and analytical skills, is a great way to express your involvement while avoiding confusion.

4. Edit, Proofread, and Repeat

This last tip applies to both your UR experience section and your resume overall; editing and proofreading your resume is critical to creating a polished final draft. Asking friends, lab mates, and career advisors to review your resume for errors and clarity is a great way to present a strong professional first impression to employers.

Describing your undergraduate research experience on a resume can be difficult, but following the above tips is a great way to create a clear description of your experience and skill set.

Making the Best of a Summer Research Experience

Written by Rebecca Carlson, Undergraduate Research Ambassador

Fall semester is in full swing: classes are starting, I’m organizing events and promoting research through several organizations, and I’m back in the lab starting an exciting new project. Even as I focus on all of these tasks at hand, however, my mind keeps going back to my summer internship at the NIH. Already this semester I have been surprised to realize how much I have learned from my summer research experience, not only about immunology and systems biology, which was the research focus where I was working, but also about how to think like a scientist and solve problems. I am amazed at how much I have grown and how much my experience has already helped with my new project in the lab, which draws upon things I learned this past summer, and, in addition, helped give me a sharpened focus on my career goals.

Perhaps I amDSC00673 even more surprised because my summer didn’t start out quite as I had hoped. In fact, during the first few weeks of my internship, I was questioning whether I really enjoyed research and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Although my mentors and coworkers were helpful and the project interesting, I was reminded again of how frustrating research can be: experiments were slow, cells didn’t behave, and often I spent hours analyzing results only to realize that my data was mostly noise anyway. After a bit of floundering, however, I resolved to continue working hard and put as much effort as I could into my internship, even if the results didn’t turn out as I wanted them to. By pushing through times of frustration, I began to get excited about research again. I learned some programming so I could develop a code to analyze my data rather than spending hours on Excel, and had lots of fun finding new ways of visualizing my data (If you’ve never heard of violin plots, you should look them up because they’re pretty neat). While I didn’t have the start that I had envisioned, by the end of my internship I was sad to leave because I was enjoying what I was doing so much. I discovered a new love for immunology and an interest in data analysis and visualization that I might never have realized otherwise.

Now that I am back in Dr. S. Patrick Walton’s lab at MSU, I’m excited to use some of the technologies I learned about this summer to continue research in another area. I’m looking forward to research right now, but I know that there will be many bumps along the way and even times when I just don’t feel like doing research. However, I’m going to choose to persevere because I know that I’ll find joy in research again if I just give it a little time. So whether you’re just looking to start a research position this semester or resuming work in the lab you were in last year, I encourage you to temper your expectations a bit with regards to how many experiments will work out this semester. Realize that there will be times when you’re simply not enjoying research, but don’t let that keep you from remembering why you started in the first place. If you stay around long enough, you’ll find joy in your research again and see many of your expectations fulfilled, though perhaps not quite in the way you originally expected.

Student Spotlight of the Week: Kelly Montgomery

True or False: Fruit flies can help save human lives. Kelly Montgomery’s research may make this statement true.

Montgomery’s research looks at the role of Retinoblastoma (RB) proteins as tumor suppressors in the Hippo signaling pathway of fruit flies. “The Hippo pathway is a signaling pathway that regulates cell growth and cell death,” Montgomery explains. This pathway in the fruit fly also determines organ size and which mutations lead to tumors. Montgomery modifies genes within the Hippo pathway where RB proteins are thought to be bound to the gene and monitors how the repression of cell growth through the Hippo pathway can be altered.

As characterizing pathways in mammals is usually complex, Montgomery uses flies as practical models to study the pathways and the components that could be targeted for future drug design. Her research could allow for great advancements in future treatments for patients with abnormalities on a gene associated with the Hippo pathway. Kelly

A Senior Human Biology major, Montgomery participates in research through the MSU BMB IDEAS program, which is run through the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. A faculty advisor encouraged Montgomery to get involved with research. “I hadn’t previously considered doing research before, but I chose not to let the opportunity pass me by. I’ve loved every bit of my experience.”

Montgomery says her research experience has helped her make sense of classroom learning. “I often felt overwhelmed by the complexity of what I was learning in class. Research experience helped me put the pieces together and understand their practical applications.” Montgomery has also learned a lot about the scientific process, deciphering and interpreting results, and delivering presentations on her work.

What is Montgomery’s favorite part of her research experience? “I have had the opportunity to travel to various cities in the U.S. and abroad to present experimental results and conduct other projects.” The opportunities to grow personally and professionally continue to make research an exciting endeavor for her. “Participation in these projects has bridged the gap between science and academia. These experiences have transformed my mentality and significantly increased my confidence in many areas of science, both in and out of the classroom.”

Montgomery’s advice to students hesitant about getting involved with research: “Try something new, it is an opportunity to develop a novel skill set. Even if you do not necessarily like what it is you are trying out, it is better to partake in a new experience than never expose yourself to what could be an amazing opportunity.”

Undergraduate Research: A Graduating Senior’s Perspective

Written by Eric Walton, Undergraduate Research Ambassador

With graduation just around the corner, I find myself facing an endless stream of ‘lasts’ here at Michigan State.  Last semester at MSU. Last undergrad spring break. Last midterm. Last student org meeting. Last UURAF. Last day in lab. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Graduation is that special time of the year when people take notice of the amazing things about a place or period of their life. It’s cliché and sappy, but no one judges you because we’ve all been there. My time as an undergraduate at Michigan State has been the most defining period in my 21 years on the planet; it has changed the way I view the world and what I want to do with my life. While I can attribute this to a variety of experiences, I know without a doubt I would not have the opportunities in front of me post-graduation I do if it were not for undergraduate research at Michigan State.

When I arrived on campus in August 2011, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I always told people I wanted to be a doctor, but in reality I had no idea. The only thing I did know was that research looks good on a résumé. So, I thought, “Why not give it a shot?” and found an undergraduate research position. I got involved with research for the wrong reason: I wanted to look impressive. Yet, looking back at that decision, I could not be more grateful I made the choice to go for it. Over the past four years I have learned just as much in my research position as I have through my academic studies; I can talk your ear off about experimental design, troubleshooting protocols, and putting together presentations. But as far as I’m concerned, the largest gain I made when I chose to dive into undergraduate research was a group of people to guide my professional development. I met a group of people in the Spence Lab here at Michigan State who have shown me how exciting (and frustrating) research can be. They’ve shown me how to mentor and support another student. They’ve shown me what it means to pursue a career in academia and how to be successful on that path. And ultimately, being around them convinced me to pursue an MD/PhD and become a physician-scientist.

Four years ago, I never would have considered spending the first 7-8 years of my post-graduate life at a dual degree program. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I was positive it didn’t require a commitment to research. Reflecting back on that naïve freshman who thought of research as résumé builder, it’s shocking to see the transformation I’ve made. Undergraduate research isn’t a way to buff up applications and impress your family. It’s a way to discover what’s important to you and expose yourself to a new way of thinking. And so, I encourage everyone, whether you are a Spartan or at another university, to give undergraduate research a shot. If it’s not for you, that’s fine, but I’d hate for anyone to miss out on an unbelievable experience simply because they didn’t think research was in their future.

Student Spotlight of the Week: Usi Adia-nimuwa

How did an aspiring electrical engineer find himself on a project exploring the inner workings of the central nervous system? Through undergraduate research. Meet Usi Adia-nimuwa ’15.

Adia-nimuwa’s research explores neural cells cultured on microscopic but strong scaffolds.  “Our study focuses on identifying signals in the interactions between cells and tissues,” he explains.  “We’re analyzing cerebral cortical cells from rats using a special technique called scanning probe microscopy and optical imaging techniques.” Adia-nimuwa has been trained in a few of these methods and thus has become an active member of the research team. “We are also writing code to segment images of our cells from their environments.”

MSU Undergrad Research Office of the Provost

Adia-nimuwa and his colleagues hope their research can be used to help develop new treatments in regenerative medicine. Regenerative medicine refers to the process of creating living, functional tissues to repair or replace lost, damanged, or defective tissues or organs. Treatments for traumatic injuries that disrupt the central nervous system (or “CNS”) can take a long time and often cost a lot of money. In addition, these treatments don’t always lead to full recovery.

Adia-nimuwa’s research looks into factors related to the formation of glial scars. Glial scars form when nerves have been damaged. They often grow across and into the wound, thus preventing it from healing. His research hints at the development of new treatments to help repair damage to the CNS by inhibiting glial scars from forming.

The chance to get involved in research as an undergraduate influenced Adia-nimuwa’s decision to come to MSU. After he arrived on campus, he quickly got involved with a research project that piqued his interest. “I was interested in exploring the CNS from an electrical engineering viewpoint,” Adia-nimuwa explains. “That’s how I met my current mentor. She had a lab set up to investigate this perspective.” He found his research position by searching online for professors whose research aligned with his own interests. He contacted the professor to set up a meeting and soon after began working in her lab.

Adia-nimuwa says he’s learned a lot. “My research experience has allowed me to gain in-depth knowledge and skills in a variety of areas. I’ve been able to develop relationships with professors who still alert me to opportunities they find rewarding.” He’s also developed a real passion for research, so much so that he’s strongly considering a career as a research scientist. Just as exciting for Adia-nimuwa is the potential for research to make a significant, positive impact on people’s lives. “It’s a fantastic medium for creating change in the world,” he enthuses. (Sounds like a typical Spartan to us.)

Adia-nimuwa recommends starting early when looking for an undergraduate research position. Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources on campus to assist students with their search. “Find something you’re interested in and pursue it. Even if you have many interests, you will find lots of resources and like-minded people on-campus available to help.”

Student Spotlight of the Week: Megan Haugh

Do you know who made the shirt you’re currently wearing? Do you think they were paid a fair wage? Megan Haugh ’16 could tell you.

International Relations major Haugh is working to protect worker’s rights in the United States and abroad. She is interning as a Regional Organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a national organization advocating for worker’s rights on a global level, and is studying unsafe working conditions in factories in the United States to one day help eradicate the use of sweatshops. Haugh explains: “I am using this experience to better understand how American corporations, through the global supply chain, contribute to the continued exploitation of factory workers in third-world countries, and how student-led activism alters public perception of brands and affects positive change.”

In her research, Haugh interviewed workers in third-world countries and compared what she learned in these interviews to what she read in scholarly journals. This allowed her to better understand working conditions and social policy in the garment industry. She hopes that her research will help influence worker policy and eradicate the issue of sweatshops completely.

Haugh says that her undergraduate research has guided her future career choice. “This research and internship are part of my James Madison College field experience, but it is about more than just meeting a graduation requirement. The issues of sweatshop labor and activist organizing are areas of interest that I want to pursue after graduation.” She hopes to bring awareness to the issue of unfair labor practices in sweatshops.

What was her favorite part of conducting undergraduate research? “My favorite part of the research experience has been interviewing workers, meeting campaign organizers, and participating in grass roots campaigning,” Haugh explains. This research opportunity has given her real-world experience and has allowed her to truly make an impact on worker’s rights.
Haugh encourages students not to be intimidated by engaging in undergraduate research. She finds the experience rewarding and it also influenced her career path. “Conducting undergraduate research can be fun, and your research can be about topics that truly interest you.”

Student Spotlight of the Week: Leena Babiker

Liver cancer is the third leading cause of death from cancer and any advances in treatment options could save many lives. Enter undergraduate researcher Leena Babiker ’15.

“Our research focuses specifically on the relationship between the gene expression of liver cancer and the progression and prognosis of the disease,” Babiker explains. She works with Dr. Pat Venta (Microbiology and Molecular Genetics) in his lab, using dogs as a model for understanding the disease. “We’re using techniques like the polymerase chain reaction to investigate the likelihood of genetic disorders in dog breeds,” she says. The polymerase chain reaction technique (or “PCR”) is a common technique that researchers can use to target a specific sequence of DNA and make lots of copies. It’s an important and useful tool for new researchers like Babiker to learn.

MSU Undergrad Research Office of the Provost

Babiker sounds like an experienced medical researcher already as she describes how she goes about her work. “For this study, I investigated the statistical correlation between the androgen receptor (a type of protein), Interleukin-6 (a kind of molecule that transmits information between cells) and fatty acid synthase (a type of enzyme), as well as the progression and prognosis of hepatocellular carcinoma (the formal name for liver cancer).” Babiker also helps by recording the results from the PCR and other research techniques in the lab notebook.

As you might expect, Babiker is learning a lot from her research experience. “In trying to understand the relationship between the gene expression of disorders and their progression, I’m better able to think more critically about these issues. I’ve also gained greater familiarity with gene sequencing techniques like PCR and gel electrophoresis.” Like many MSU students, Babiker sought out research experience in order to explore a potential career path. “I I wanted to discover what my specific research interests were; what sorts of questions I was really moved by and passionate about.”

Babiker grew up in Dubai, a long way from East Lansing. What drew her to Michigan State? “MSU offers a wide variety of resources and programs to help students to define and expand their career goals,” she says. “I really enjoy student life here. Interacting with students from diverse backgrounds gives you a broader perspective on the world.”

She has some great advice for Spartans thinking about seeking out research experience. “Research isn’t just for science majors — anyone can get involved. There are lots of great summer research opportunities, both at Michigan State and at other universities. You can even start by emailing professors — who are generally incredibly helpful — who are conducting research in your field of interest.”