How to start research at university

When will I need to do research?

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Research is what makes university most different from school or college. At school you're asked to accept that what you're taught is 'true', but at university you're expected to take nothing at face value, and you may be surprised how few 'answers' there are. Research cannot 'prove' anything - it just tells us how likely something is.

This is why university requires a whole different set of skills. You no longer receive information and deliver it back in exams. You need to question everything and find the answers for yourself. You need to become a confident, independent thinker with an enquiring mind because if you're not interested in finding out, why are you at university?

Virtually every assignment you complete at university will need to be thoroughly researched. This involves locating appropriate sources of information, deciding what's relevant, reading and making notes, keeping a record of what you've read, and referencing and compiling a bibliography.

There's also a good chance you'll carry out some research of your own during the course of your degree: many students do a dissertation or a research project. This is a really exciting opportunity to carry out some original research, and try to answer a question that has not yet been answered - if you're very lucky, you might even end up with a published research paper with your name on it!

Activity: doing research at university - 10 minutes

1. Identify any opportunities to do research during your degree: think about the research you'll need to do for assignments, as well as any opportunities you may get to do primary research. Your study guide or handbook is a good place to start looking.

2. Talk to your tutor or lecturers about opportunities to get involved in research. Some departments offer summer jobs working with research teams; these are a great way to get an insight into the life of a researcher.

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