The Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates (ICRU) is a place for students to expand what they learn in the classroom into a more hands-on experience, as well as examine their own questions within their field of interest. Center staff members work to match students with faculty who can transform their questions into manageable research opportunities.
Robert Kirby, director of the center, found passion helping undergraduates with research as an adjunct associate professor of psychology at Iowa. He assisted in the development of the center, and today helps students understand the importance of research in all academic fields, facilitates annual research events, and oversees a variety of award programs that support undergraduate research. Kirby also serves as the associate director of the University of Iowa Honors Program, which collaborates with the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and the Graduate College in supporting ICRU.
Kirby recently spoke with Parent Times about the value of undergraduate research.
How did the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates get started, and why?
The center grew out of a shared interest by many units on campus in the educational benefits of undergraduate research. I was active in research as an undergraduate, and that experience helped solidify my interest in the field of psychology. When I came to Iowa, working hands-on with students in research really increased my interest in trying to serve in a broader role, and that is part of how ICRU started. The center took research activities that were going on across campus and created a central location for students and faculty to turn to when they had questions about undergraduate research.
Why is undergraduate research important? How can it help students academically and professionally?
Undergraduate research has always been a focus at The University of Iowa. Research is a way for students to take a field that interests them and learn about it in greater depth. To be able to take what they are learning in the classroom and apply it in a research setting is just a phenomenal opportunity. Students can work with world-renowned experts in their field. For example, UI undergraduate Alexandra Keenan was just named a Glamour Top 10 College Woman of the Year. Her research efforts on water purification for poor communities with Craig Just in engineering and on cancer screening and treatment in India with Raj Rajagopal in geography were distinctive parts of her résumé.
Involvement in undergraduate research can lead to academic credit or financial support for students as well as making them better applicants for graduate and professional training. Research also can expose students to career directions they may never have considered. We have a tremendous need for skilled individuals going into science and engineering, and research involvement can build that interest.
What sets Iowa apart from other universities in terms of undergraduate research?
There are thousands of universities in the nation that teach undergraduates, but there is a small set called research universities, and Iowa is one of those institutions. Faculty at these universities have two primary roles: to instruct students, and to pursue their own research. As a research university, Iowa provides a great venue for students to combine classroom instruction with one-on-one scholarly work with faculty in outstanding areas from our writing programs to UI Hospitals and Clinics.
Iowa is a tremendously open university. Our boundaries between colleges are more porous than many of our peer institutions. For example, a student majoring in biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering easily could be working with a faculty member in the Carver College of Medicine while still participating in marching band. Our students gain from that openness.
by Tessa McLean