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NIU Today | Ready, set, research! Undergraduates encouraged to apply for Research Rookies

Rachel Wozniak counts Research Rookies among her best experiences at NIU.

The Maple Park native graduated this spring with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a jumpstart on her career, thanks in part to Research Rookies.

Like all Huskies who take part in the unique program, Wozniak was able to work alongside a faculty mentor to conduct a small-scale research or artistry project.

“I joined Research Rooks to get the experience of research in its entirety and strengthen my skills in analyzing data,” said Wozniak, worked with Melissa Clucas Walter, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Family and Consumer Sciences. “I have met some of my best friends through this program, and I have gained so much confidence about doing research on my own.”

No matter what college, year in school, department or major, any Huskie can apply to be a Research Rookie.

Applications for the 2022-23 year are currently being accepted and have a priority deadline of June 1, 2022, and a final deadline of Aug. 15, 2022. Those who take part receive a $500 stipend upon completion of the program.

Faculty and staff are asked to spread the word, and incoming and current undergraduate students are encouraged to pursue the opportunity.

Faculty also can express interest in becoming a Research Rookie mentor through a Faculty Mentor Interest Form. As mentors, faculty guide undergraduate students who are brand new to research through the research or artistry process by providing learning resources and necessary tools to be able to successfully assist with an existing research project.

“Faculty mentors are the heart of the Research Rookies program, providing with guidance and real world experience students properly research within their respective field,” said Destiny McDonald, acting director of the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, which oversees Research Rookies.

As a public research institution, NIU emphasizes hands-on learning guided by professors who are active researchers in their own fields. Research Rookies plays a pivotal role in that mission.

Participants spend the fall semester taking part in research exploration activities, then transition to undergraduate research assistants in the spring semester, assisting faculty members on research projects. They also create and present an academic poster on their research findings at the Conference on Undergraduate Research and Engagement.

The experience gained is invaluable.

“Through undergraduate research experiences such as Research Rookies, students gain many important professional skills that employers are looking for in new graduates, such as collaboration, problem solving and effective communication,” McDonald said.

Some Research Rookies, like Wozniak, used the program to explore a career in research before committing to a graduate program. For others, the program deepens their knowledge of a career field, while building a professional network.

“I joined Research Rookies because I wanted research experience with a professional who has background in eye care, since that is the field I’m aiming to go into,” said Alexis Sibley, a Joliet native majoring in Health Sciences.

Sibley worked with Professor Elizabeth Gaillard in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry on a project called “Investigating Cellular Response of RPE Cells to L-DOPA.”

“This experience has taught me how to use equipment I would’ve known even existed, as well as the true, messy process that is research,” Sibley said.

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