Research Universities & Colleges

Of the many types of universities in the land, research universities with very high research activity, classified currently as RU/VH universities, lie at the apex of the institutional structure.  Nearly all of the world’s best universities, classified as such by many different independent organizations, hold the RU/VH classification.  Because of its unique nature and its positioning at the top, this type of university merits a discussion in and of itself.

One of the purposes of a university is to teach.  The other is to conduct research.  Research universities are where knowledge is furthered, discoveries are made, scientific progress occurs and social progress finds its roots.  On a strong research university campus you will find the very air thick with intellectual pursuits – you can actually feel the high levels of cognition that find home there.  Immerse yourself in this environment as a student, and you will find yourself unconsciously striving for higher levels of excellence.

Your professors at a research university are generally all PhDs.  If they don’t have this degree, they are probably at the top of their field and hold a Master’s degree.  Your teaching assistants (TAs) are en route to the PhD degree for themselves.  The TAs are novice researchers being indoctrinated into the research arena by their professors who are seasoned researchers.  Make no mistake – as professors at research universities, your professors are researchers first and foremost, and teachers second.

This doesn’t mean they can’t teach.  Some are truly amazing educators, gifted at simplifying the complex and presenting it so that everyone can understand.  This merely means that their first priority is in research: they need it in order to keep their jobs.

Interacting with and learning from these types of people can offer serious advantages to the undergraduate student in numerous ways, both during the undergraduate experience and thereafter.  Not only does it bring out the best in you as a student, but this environment offers several opportunities to participate in research projects or even teaching assistant assignments.  You can interact with grad students and learn about their experiences as you contemplate your own academic future, and you can take graduate classes if you’re up to it.  You may have an opportunity to personally know some leading figures in the field, which is not only an amazing opportunity to learn from the best.  A good article on the benefits of attending research universities can be found here:   Additionally, because these types of universities are generally well known for their excellence, you carry this institution’s excellent reputation with you every time you mention your alma mater – which will help you land jobs.

On the whole, these institutions push you further intellectually.  The culture of a strong research university will inspire you to reach higher, as you personally witness that all things are possible because you know people who win prizes and land amazing jobs.  These skills and perspectives will only benefit you throughout your life.

Michele Poff, Ph.D.
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