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Remote Research

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many research projects are being conducted remotely.

When connecting with remote research experience, keep the following in mind:

  • Be human. Current circumstances are difficult for professors and students alike. Have realistic expectations of what you and your mentor are able to accomplish right now.
  • Use Eureka. The Eureka database of faculty research interests and projects is a great way of connecting with professors. As professors continue to adapt to changing circumstances, you’ll find more updates about remote research opportunities. Remember, professors find it normal for students to approach them out of the blue, so use the faculty interests search to identify professors working on relevant topics. Not all professors post projects, so the project listing is not exhaustive—just because you don’t see a given project, that doesn’t mean people aren’t working on that topic.
  • Make a plan. Clearly setting deadlines and expectations is additionally helpful during remote learning. If you’re not clear on what to do or what is expected, ask your mentor!
  • Communication. Schedule regular interactions (e.g., via Zoom) one to two times a week with your PI and/or student mentors. Scheduled interactions are more important than ever for keeping you up-to-date, accountable, and engaged with the work.
  • Shadowing. In addition to meeting regularly with the professor, set up recurring meetings with other students in the lab. Small clusters of two to three students are good for checking in on each other’s progress and well-being.
  • Feedback. Feedback is important for learning research skills. You may need to seek out feedback from your research mentors; don’t be afraid to ask for their comments (or their help)!
  • Advocate for yourself. With these different modes of interaction, you may need to be more proactive than usual in setting goals, taking on new responsibilities, and advocating for your role in the project. Don’t be afraid to speak up!
  • Resources. There are many resources available to you online. Ask for help connecting to digital resources, such as online archives, video web series, blogs, and websites by people within the field, or free software you can access on your home computers.
  • Professional development. Virtual brown bag talks and reading groups can help acculturate you to your lab and your broader field. Check out virtual conferences, which can also assist with professional development. OUR offers online workshops on more discipline-general professional development.

Depending on your topic, here are some research tasks that can be done remotely

  • Familiarizing yourself with your field. Students can remotely access and read foundational texts in their field’s literature. Learning theory now will be of use when they take a more hands-on role later. Many institutes now also share a host of videos on YouTube covering topics such as introductory training, introductions to research methods, as well as conversations with experts within their fields.
  • Training in research skills. Some investigative or analytical techniques might have online training available, e.g., through UTLearn or LinkedIn Learning. Students can get a head start learning programming languages (e.g., R; Python) or specific statistical tests. Again, YouTube is another great resource for learning how to use software they may work with during their research (e.g. QGIS and Blender).
  • Play a role in the data pipeline. Faculty, postdocs, and graduate students may be back in labs before undergraduates. If so, they may be able to collect data that you can then process or analyze remotely.
  • Revisiting old data. Conducting additional analyses on your PI’s old data—or even just re-analyzing it as an exercise—can give you direct experience with this part of your research.
  • Designing experiments. While the experiment itself might need to be delayed, you begin designing future projects remotely. Some design work, e.g., creating Qualtrics surveys or coding behavioral experiments, is easy to do remotely.
  • Collecting data remotely. If you can use a remote desktop application to access specialized software, or if you can interact with human subjects via Zoom or phone, then you may be able to collect data remotely. When applicable, you might also explore online collection methods like MTurk.
  • Creating materials. In many cases, you can code data, digitize existing materials, or build databases remotely.
  • Coding for meta-analysis. Learning to code data for meta-analysis can open up new avenues of investigation.
  • Contributing to writing. Even if you aren’t ready to contribute text to an article for publication, you may be able to write literature reviews or annotated bibliographies.