What makes Lehigh a "research university”?
It means that uncovering new knowledge and arriving at new understanding are among our priorities and an important part of what our faculty and students do. You've probably heard this before, but the details, and what it means for us at Lehigh, might surprise you. It means that we see you not as someone here to absorb what's in the textbooks. We want you to get glimpses of how what's in the textbooks was figured out. We want you to become equipped to question current understanding, and arrive at new understanding on your own. We love it when you ask questions we can't answer. In fact, we think that the ability to ask good questions—and to evaluate possible answers—will serve you well throughout your life. When we say "personalized research university," part of what we're saying is we want independent discovery to be part of your Lehigh experience.
Can you give an overview of the types of research undergraduate students at Lehigh are engaged in and what opportunities they have that they might not experience elsewhere?
All types. And I mean all. Ask any of your professors, "What are you working on?" and they will tell you as much as you have time for. So in terms of subject matter, it's a question of what interests you. And in some cases, doing research is woven into your courses—though no one will stop you from going further, or from doing research of other kinds. I think three things make us different. One is the kind of direct faculty interaction that you get at a liberal arts college combined with the breadth of research projects and programs of a national research university. Related to that is what I call ownership. Whether being welcomed by graduate students into a research team environment, or doing solo work with a faculty mentor, or working with a self-assembled team of students, we want a piece of the work to be yours. And we know that for you, the process—asking good questions, looking for answers, trying and failing and trying again, and sharing what you've learned—is the most important thing. And finally, consistent with our view that these are treasured lifelong abilities, we embrace the fact that original inquiry takes many forms. You can dive into the lab, or archive or studio, and publish as faculty and graduate students do, but there are myriad other modes and outlets as well.
What makes Lehigh an ideal fit for students looking to complete undergraduate research?
It's the enthusiasm of the faculty for what you're doing, the range of opportunities and a "go for it" attitude.
What advice can you give students who are interested in completing undergraduate research?
I always tell students, when you were around 3 years old, you inevitably went through a phase in which you incessantly asked adults around you, "Why?" and they'd answer and you'd ask, "Why?" and on, and on. Summon back that 3-year-old self, happily combined with your 17-plus years of observation and experience. Your curiosity, and your individual experience and perspective, are what you bring. Research thrives on novel questions and advances by bringing diverse experience and perspectives to the table. So remember that research isn't reserved for the students who took the most AP classes, or, for that matter, those who got the top grades. If you're curious, energized by the topic and willing to devote the effort, you're in. You can be welcomed into a world you didn't know existed. And remember that you get more than one chance to try. Researchers fail all the time! An important non-secret is that your faculty very often, by design, feel just a little bit over their heads with the work they're doing. So think of it not as a box to check or a paper to produce, but as a marvelous adventure.