By Kelly Mayes, University of Georgia

Undergraduate research is a vital part of the process of getting into graduate school, but for some students, taking a chunk out of their schedules to spend time in the lab is not that easy.

While undergraduate research is a critical element in the education of students engaged in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), lower-income students struggle to balance the time required for their experiments and supporting themselves when laboratory jobs often do not pay.

“My lab is really flexible with the time. I just really want research since I really want to go to graduate school; it’s really important that I do as much research as I possibly can so I just always ask for more things to do,” said Claire Mauss, a fourth-year environmental science major at the University of Southern California.

Although her research hours are flexible, Mauss said balancing her work in the lab with classes and her other jobs can be exhausting. Mauss also said that though this balancing act may have hurt her GPA to some degree, she does not regret it because she finds the research just as valuable as class work.

Mauss said she was unable to find a paid internship doing research on campus but spends much of her time volunteering in a lab researching aloe plants at the botanical gardens located 30 minutes away from her home.

She continues to do it because the work is fun and she believes it will help her to attend graduate school. Mauss said that though it is tough with the rest of her schedule, it is imperative she has research under her belt.

Erin Dolan, the head of the CUREnet program at the University of Georgia, a program that engages students in course-based research says that undergraduate research is critical to STEM education.

“I think it helps students figure out what STEM actually is, it engages them in the practices of it, it helps them make decisions about what they should do next in their education and their career,” Dolan said. “That decision can either be in favor of doing research as a career or against but the opportunity is there.”

Dolan said that doing research for course credit through CUREnet programs can be a good option for lower-income students struggling to balance research projects and supporting themselves with other jobs.

Dolan pointed to a 2017 studypublished in Life Sciences Education that shows undergraduate research, specifically as a freshman, assists in students’ participation and success regardless of race, gender or income.

Mauss said that even though it has been hard to balance research and her other jobs, she does not regret anything because the work is so fun.

“I think that research is one of the things that’s definitely more valuable to me because it’s what I want to do with my career,” Mauss said. “Even though sometimes it’s hard to get myself there from campus… once I step into the lab it just feels completely different because that work is so much more important to me on a personal level that I don’t want to leave.”

Kelly Mayes is a journalism major in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.