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How Research Helps You Stand Out

Our guest blogger this month is Stephen Turban, a PhD researcher at Harvard Business School and a director of the Lumiere Research Scholar Program. In this post, he outlines the benefits of a research project for developing knowledge and for supporting university admissions applications.

'My interview at Yale was about to begin – and I was nervous. My palms were sweaty as I contemplated what I’d say to the faculty interviewer. To my surprise, I saw my interviewer smiling as I walked into the room. Before I could say anything, she started with a few words. “Stephen, I’ve never said this to an applicant before, but I loved your research paper with Professor Bernstein (my research co-author at Harvard Business School). I even use it in my class!”

Immediately, my shoulders dropped as I relaxed. My research had spoken before I had.’

Doing research is a distinctive way to help your application stand out for university admissions.

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But, how and why does research matter in admissions? Here are a few reasons.

1. Doing research demonstrates intellectual rigor and curiosity

Tenured professors do not prove their academic excellence by taking tests or getting good grades. Instead, they do novel research on difficult questions. As a result, doing research – whether independently or with a mentor – is a reflection of the highest order academic rigor. Creating a research paper shows a level of intellectual ability and creativity that surpasses even a perfect test score.

2. Doing research helps you create advocates

When you do research with a mentor, you’re implicitly building a deep relationship. That mentor can then serve as an advocate for you either formally (with a letter of recommendation) or informally (with information about how to apply and be effective). My three letters for graduate school, for example, came from three faculty members who I did research with at Harvard.

3. Doing research shapes your narrative

One way to showcase your expertise is to research in that area. One Lumiere Research Scholar (what we call our students) was interested in computer science and inequality. So, she chose to do research on gender differences in computer science training – an area of passion for her and alignment with her area of focus. This is an area she discussed in her application – and she’s joining MIT this upcoming fall!

4. Doing research proves that you know what it takes to succeed in university

By doing research, particularly with a PhD-level researcher, you show an understanding of the rigor required at college or graduate school. As admissions officers are looking at your application, they’re asking the question, “Will this student thrive here?” By doing research, you show how you’ve reached that academic level before you’ve even enrolled.

Research is not for everyone – and it’s definitely not a silver bullet when it comes to college or graduate school admissions. With that said, it can be a distinctive way to stand out in the application process.

One way to do research is through structured programs that introduce you to topics and researchers. Selective programs such as the Lumiere Research Scholar Program help students work directly with researchers from universities such as Oxford, Harvard, and Stanford. Informally, there are other ways to find research opportunities – such as reaching out directly to faculty or graduate students in an area that interests you. However you do it, research can help you stand out. The Lumiere Research Scholar Program is selective and has applications for the upcoming spring cohort (March) and summer cohort (June).


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