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How to get involved in research as an online student

A young adult man looks at a printout of a graph while sitting at his laptop.

4 questions online undergrads have about the topic

By Carly Johansen

Oregon State University is one of the leading research universities in the United States, known as “R1 institutions.” Oregon State students can enrich their experience in school by getting involved in the research process, and online learners often wonder what opportunities they have access to. 

If you’re interested in research, unsure or somewhere in between, you probably have some questions. Here are four common questions and their helpful answers from the Oregon State Ecampus Research Unit about online research opportunities.

1. Can I really help conduct research if I’m studying online?

Absolutely! Many elements of research projects can be conducted entirely online, making it accessible for online students as well. Virtual collaboration tools, such as video conferencing and shared document platforms, allow researchers and assistants to work together remotely. 

To gain more insight, consider reaching out to professors teaching your courses to ask about research and how students who learn online can get involved.

Grace Masterjohn leaning against a pasture fence.Grace Masterjohn earned her B.S. in Agricultural Sciences online with Oregon State and participated in research as part of her program. Read Grace’s story and learn how the Office of Undergraduate Research creates opportunities for students to present their research findings at OSU and beyond.

Note that because of the level of research OSU faculty carry out, students usually work on faculty-led  research projects, rather than conducting their own individual research.

2. How can I find online research opportunities?

Start by reaching out to your professors or academic advisor to inquire about any ongoing research projects. Additionally, many universities like Oregon State have online hiring platforms where researchers post their projects and look for student assistants. These job openings aren’t always listed as “remote” or “online”, but many may be feasible for work from a distance. Ultimately, you’d need to connect with the researcher or hiring manager to see if they’d be open to a remote research assistant. In fact, Oregon State Ecampus recently developed a guide for interested online undergrads who want to get started.

“Sometimes it’s hard to find information about getting involved in research,” says Ecampus Research Unit associate director of research Naomi Aguiar. “There are also some unique challenges for getting involved in research when you’re an asynchronous online student. The undergraduate guide is an avenue for you to explore your reasons for getting involved in research and avenues that you can take to get there.”

3. What skills do I need to engage in online research?

According to Ecampus Research Unit postdoctoral scholar Greta Underhill, faculty members consider a variety of things when selecting a research assistant. You should expect them to consider your GPA and relevant coursework as well as your previous experience. 

“You can think broadly about experience: you could leverage paid work experience, unpaid internships, volunteering, advocacy work and more. If it demonstrates a competency that relates to research, it counts,” Underhill says.

The skills required for online research vary depending on the nature of the project. However, some common skills include critical thinking, literature review and effective communication. It’s also beneficial to have a basic understanding of research methodologies, the ability to work independently and manage your time effectively.

4. How do I know research is right for me?

Determining if research is the right path for you requires self-reflection and exploration. Start by considering whether involvement in research would support your academic and career interests.

Next, consider how much time you have available to you — both in your average week and remaining before you complete your degree or program. If you don’t have much weekly spare time, look into a research-based course that could count toward your degree. 

“Talk with your academic advisor and identify the kinds of skills needed for graduate school or your future career,” Ecampus Research Unit director Mary Ellen Dello Stritto recommends. “If research skills are needed, you should look into research.” 

Internships, volunteering, or job shadowing experiences can provide hands-on exposure to the research process and help you determine if it aligns with your interests and goals.

Discover how you can begin exploring research opportunities while learning online at Oregon State. 

View the online undergraduate research guide

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