Undergraduate Research Opportunities Outside of the Lab?

As a pre-law student, I came into Rice thinking that I would never have to concern myself with research. Many of my freshmen pre-med friends flew into a frenzy at the end of first semester while applying and looking into labs where they could do topical research and get published. As a pre-law student, I thought this conversation did not apply to me, but I had no idea how Rice would surprise me. 


Every single residential college has some sort of Associate program- previous graduates or close adult affiliates of the college who continue to show their support through various methods: hosting O-Week groups at their house for dinner, mentoring students, or attending college dinners and Associates’ Nights to meet students. My residential college continues its Associate-student engagement by pairing interested students with an Associate who is currently working in a field they’re interested in pursuing later on. Given that I only have a general idea of what I want to do for my career, this program seemed like a perfect way to gain more insight into the more technical aspects of law.


I’ve happened to learn that Rice has a really funny way of presenting opportunities to its students.


The day I got to meet my Associate, our Associate Coordinators at had set up a lunch . Ironically, it wasn’t even my Associate that I began doing research with. Conversation was nice, and we left after exchanging emails and a promise to keep in touch. But on my way out from the lunch, I was stopped by another Associate who had seen me at a pre-law interest event and asked if I was still interested in a pre-law opportunity. Seemingly through fate, research with this Associate fell into my lap- but I wasn’t really sure what legal research even was or what kind of time commitment would be expected of me. After a week of deliberation, I was already working on my first problem with nothing but an online database and a collection of words that I had never heard before. My research is very different to what most of my other friends are involved in- instead of running gels or testing on animals in labs all I need is my laptop and I can get started analyzing Constitutional precedent in thousands of legal cases.


I’ve been researching for almost three months now, and I’ve learned skills that I haven’t yet in the classroom- or already got a head start on certain skills that I are gradually becoming more applicable in my coursework. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that my upper-level political science class is using Westlaw, a database that I’ve already become familiar with, thanks to my research. To be completely honest, it wasn’t at all rewarding in the beginning. There were questions with terms I hadn’t even heard of before and I had no idea where to start looking. But trial and error will get you further than just simply being shown how to climb the ropes.


My favorite part about the nature of my research is its flexibility- I have someone keeping me accountable so I don’t fall too far behind, but ultimately, the work is what I can and want to put into it. It’s a frustrating, seldom rewarding process- but when I do turn up with even slightly promising results, the painful hours of reading and rereading thirty page legal briefs and case citations are all worth it. Just a few months before, I hadn’t even known what legal research was, and now I’m so excited to be editing not just one, but two publications.




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