Academic Research: Not Just for STEM!

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Andrew Bierbower
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When it comes to research opportunities, most people envision a laboratory filled with high-tech equipment, hazardous chemicals, and lots of scientists wearing lab coats working on experiments in biology, chemistry, and physics. This can be intimidating to those who do not have a strong background in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). However, there are many non-STEM opportunities available that can be equally rewarding and arguably even more impactful.

Research in the Social Sciences

A major area of non-STEM research is the social sciences. This includes fields like psychology, sociology, and political science, just to name a few. Social science research aims to understand things like human behavior, social structures, and societal issues. As an example, a sociologist may study the effects of social media on mental health or how income inequality may impact crime rates. This type of research helps provide important insights into human behavior and can help inform active, effective, and wide-reaching policy decisions at local, state, and federal levels.

Medical Research

Medical research is another important area of non-STEM research that is often overlooked. While medical research often involves STEM fields like biology and chemistry, it also includes non-STEM fields such as epidemiology, public health, and even bioethics. Medical research aims to understand and treat human diseases, while improving healthcare systems and policies. This could include studying the effectiveness of different types of healthcare interventions, healthcare communication to different socio-economic groups, and even understanding the ethical implications of introducing new medical technologies.

Collaborative Research

Most importantly, many research opportunities are looking to combine STEM and non-STEM fields into interdisciplinary research. This type of research enables inputs from multiple fields, facilitating new, conceptual solutions that may never have been created solely due to the lack of looking at the problem from a new perspective. For example, an economist may ask a sociologist for help in analyzing healthcare spending habits in underprivileged communities before recommending policies providing subsidies for specific healthcare services. This type of collaboration between disciplines helps create more impactful and significant changes than a singular approach to solving problems.


Opportunities to get yourself involved in this type of research are wide-ranging; the National Science Foundation runs a program called Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) in which universities across the US receive federal funding to pursue different disciplines of research. Ethics, Social, Behavioral, and Economic sciences are just a few of the disciplines that are funded by this program. Applying to these programs requires completing an application, writing letters of intent, and most require letters of recommendations from a professor or manager.

Reach Out to Your Professor

However, if you miss those deadlines or don’t have the time to complete the applications, you can also reach out directly to professors and working labs at your university or other universities you would be willing to travel to. This approach requires a bit more leg work, as you need to find out background information on the research the professor is doing and seeing if it aligns with what you are interested in. However, it can be much more rewarding in the end when compared to blanket applying to programs as mentioned earlier.

Regardless of how you choose to pursue research, do not feel like you are limited because you are a non-STEM major. Significant contributions are made every day by people from all backgrounds, including historians, humanists, sociologists, artists, and more. You never know how your perspective can change the lives of those around you!

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