Conducting Research the Proper Way

Doing research in your field of interest is definitely something that you’ll want supplementing your application to b-school.  Research can be great for all of the following:

  • Getting your feet wet with solving real-world problems in your field
  • Giving you something substantial to talk about in internship and b-school interviews
  • Allowing you to personally get to know a professor, which helps in:
    • Securing nominations for awards
    • Getting meaningful letters of recommendation written on your behalf (necessary for b-school apps)

The same advice that applied to joining extra-curricular activities applies here.  That is, depth is more important than breadth.  You want to start your research early enough in your academic career that it can start helping you later on.  The longer you are on a project, the fuller and better the project will be, increasing the likelihood that you will:

  • Win an award for the project
  • Foster a relationship with the professor in charge of the project
  • Publish a paper on the project (not many business students do this and it really sets you apart in your applications)

Therefore, you should ideally stay with the same professor/mentor for your research career, and should thus first do some groundwork beforehand to see if the professor is someone whose interests align with yours and is someone with whom you can work for an extended period of time.  Your university should have a directory of all faculty seeking students to assist them in conducting research.  Check their CVs (usually listed on their university page) for research they’ve done in the past, or ask to sit down with them for thirty minutes one day to discuss possible research opportunities.  Even can be a good source of student opinion on the professor’s demeanor, as can taking a class with the professor.

You just want to be sure you have a good mentor during this process, because even if you can’t land the three-year-long “mega project” that leads to awards, conferences, and papers, you still will have a deeper with one professor than you would if you conducted your projects all with separate people, which will lead to far better recommendations.

I, myself, have experiences both of these kinds of research.  I’ve helped out a professor with a dataset for a semester doing some pretty time-consuming, grueling analysis and seen nothing come from it.  Nor did I feel comfortable with that professor writing me a letter of recommendation because I felt that they still didn’t really know me at the end of the project.  The project did not win me any awards, foster a great relationship with a professor, or allow me to publish a paper.  It just wasted my time.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to work with a professor that allowed me to do more than a fleeting analysis.  This professor let me delve deep into a problem and work with him/her for over a year on the same research.  The research has won us several university awards and even international accolades, created a great relationship between the professor (who has nominated me for other awards) and myself, and has even set the stage for a paper in the near future.

So, to recap, when it comes to research: find a professor you like doing research you’re interested in, work with them for as long as possible (and on the same project, if possible), and all the while work on fostering a relationship with that professor.  When you start seeing results in your research, start presenting it at conferences and competing in poster shows.  At the end of it all you’ll have a couple of things on your resume that few other business school students will.

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