Research Gave Meaning to My Undergraduate Years

Green Library's west stacks. Credit: Ian Terpin

I knew I was interested in research from the day I arrived as a freshman at Stanford, in 1980. I specify that because I know not all Stanford undergraduates are interested in research, and that is fine too. The university has much to offer undergraduates. But if you are interested in research, you are especially fortunate. Research is at the core of what Stanford is about, and I do not think there is a more welcoming place than Stanford for undergraduates who want to work with faculty doing research. 

In the decades since I received my bachelor's degree (in Statistics, with Honors in the Humanities), Stanford has been encouraging undergraduates to get involved in research much earlier than I did. I only began doing research when I did my honors project, during my senior year. From its conception and development, to the weekly meetings I had about it with my honors advisor, and the long evenings spent writing, working on that essay was the most meaningful experience I had as an undergraduate. It was also the main reason I landed my first job, and, after that, a crucial factor for getting admitted to a Ph.D. program. I kind of wish I had begun doing research prior to my last undergraduate year. I had felt a bit disconnected from Stanford until I did research. But once I had a project, and a faculty mentor with whom I had regular one-on-one meetings, I realized that research was what I wanted to do after I graduated. 

Whatever passion you have at Stanford, try to find someone who will help you explore it on an ongoing basis, for more than just one course. The quarters go by quickly, but in my experience, what makes a student feel grounded are the interests and activities that persist from term to term, and even from year to year. Whatever those turn out to be for you, I hope you have fun discovering them!

Todd Davies

Lecturer and Associate Director of Symbolic Systems