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By Michelle Bryant, College of Liberal Arts
Published: Nov. 21, 2011

For three College of Liberal Arts undergraduates, conducting research with professors provided the skills they needed to succeed and helped them discover just what they wanted to do next.

“Undergraduate research gives you an experience that you’d almost never get in a classroom,” says Marc Musick, associate dean of student affairs and professor of sociology. “Just imagine being an undergraduate discovering things never discovered before and generating new knowledge, and the kind of self-confidence you gain from that.”

Undergraduates who engage in research report more positive outcomes such as a higher GPA, according to a 2010 survey of University of Texas students. And it is particularly beneficial for students who are further along in their college careers and those who are less prepared coming into college as measured by SAT scores and class rank.

Musick says research hones skills that are useful for succeeding in the academic environment and beyond: writing more effectively, increasing critical thinking skills and building a sense of creativity. He also notes the importance of building strong relationships with faculty, some of which may develop into a lifelong mentorship.

The following stories chronicle undergraduate researchers’ experiences in the field.

Fossil Find

Elissa Ludeman

Elissa Ludeman’s introduction to the world of paleontology during her first trip to Texas’ Chihuahuan Desert in January 2010 proved extraordinary when she made a significant discovery.

“Definitely my most exciting find to date,” says Ludeman, an anthropology and psychology 2010 University of Texas at Austin graduate, of her fossil find that would later be indentified as a new species. “I was incredibly excited for a chance to see these fossils and teeth first hand. To see and feel a fossil and know I was the first human to see it is incomparable to simply viewing a picture of a fossil in a textbook.”

Ludeman, a native of Spring, worked to collect fossils with University of Texas at Austin physical anthropologist Chris Kirk and a team of researchers at Midwestern State University’s Dalquest Desert Research Site in Brewster County located in the Big Bend region, where Kirk directs an ongoing project to collect Eocene fossils, especially early primates.

During her time in the field, Ludeman was fortunate enough to find an upper jawbone containing the fourth premolar to the third molar. When she found the specimen it was broken in half, but Kirk was later able to glue the two pieces together in the lab. He was then able to confirm that it was an undiscovered species of early primate: Mescalerolemur horneri.

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