1

For background, I'm currently enrolled in the honors college for both my majors (CS and Econ) in my university. Honors for each major means that I have to take 1-2 courses per major where the only focus is research.

While my "main" major is CS (the one I spend the most time on, will use for jobs later), I'm not sure I want to do honors there. I could be taking grad courses that go deeper into topics that interest me and can do research on the side (ie as part of a prof's group) without those credits.

For Econ, I'm more concerned. I've heard it's more important for an Econ student to do honors and it would be much more difficult for me to do research without the designated courses. However, I don't plan on going to grad school for Econ as of right now (I'm thinking about doing an MBA/masters in CS if it helps). Furthermore, basically every place I apply to doesn't care whether I've done honors or not.

I joined for the learning and experiencing research in undergrad, but it seems difficult to justify when the same time/credit hours can be spent doing something else that would be more applicable to jobs (ex. taking a grad lvl deep learning course).

How would I go about evaluating whether the honors is worth it in either major? What value does one derive by doing research as an undergrad?

2
  • This question seems similar but is not because the honors college asks more out of the students and most of the answers seem to focus on that rather than the tradeoff between research and other course
    – user760900
    Nov 20 '20 at 0:40
  • 1
    You should do undergraduate research in order to decide whether you want to do that kind of graduate research. Don't jump through arbitrary hoops if you don't know why you're doing it.
    – knzhou
    Nov 20 '20 at 1:25
2

Research is totally different than anything else you do in schooling. It's the distinction between learning what everyone else has done before and learning something no one knows yet (no one ever).

Do you need to learn truly new things to be a productive member of society? No, you really don't. Our society is really advanced, and almost all the work out there is about doing things people have done before. You could spend your whole life learning what other people know and never come close to learning it all.

Do you need research experience for a non-academic career that doesn't involve research? No, probably not. That said, depending on the research environment you can also get exposed to a lot of more broadly applicable job skills as well when you do research.

You'll have to decide for yourself whether research is worth it. It's hard, probably you'll fail in almost everything you do as you get started unless you're given a very simple project, but you can still learn a lot. If nothing else, you might learn whether research could be a path for you in the future, or whether you should avoid it.

2

How would I go about evaluating whether the [research] honors is worth it in either major?

I would suggest two paradigms.

Start at the goal and work your way back. What job is it that you want to get? From your post-grad plans, I'm guessing you want to be something like a manager in a tech company. More concretely, it sounds like your next step is to get an MS in CS from a reputable school. So, you should determine which of your alternatives will help you to reach these goals. In some sense, this is a normal career decision rather than a peculiarity of academia.

Cast a wide net. The challenge with the above approach is that it's hard to set goals in your early career, when there may be jobs that you haven't even heard of, or things you enjoy / are good at that you haven't even tried yet. So, consider that you should try many different things and develop many different skills before you settle on a narrow path. While there are many possibilities, research is a good/common choice because:

  1. Research positions are often available for college students, are usually compatible with students' schedules and levels of experience, and are easily understood (or even expected) by employers and grad schools; and
  2. Most research projects are longer-term endeavors that require learning skills that are useful "in the real world"; so, the benefits of getting some research experience are not limited to those who want to pursue research careers.

I'm not sure I want to do honors [in CS]. I could be taking grad courses that go deeper into topics that interest me and can do research on the side (ie as part of a prof's group) without those credits.

This seems like a well-reasoned decision. Here, it seems like "getting honors" would actually reduce your qualifications (which is a failing of your college!). Sometimes it's important to do painful things just for the accreditation (e.g., PhD candidates need to finish proofing their thesis!), but this does not seem to be one of those times.

For Econ, I'm more concerned. I've heard it's more important for an Econ student to do honors...however, I don't plan on going to grad school for Econ

I suspect the comment about honors being important pertains to graduate admissions in economics, which is very competitive. I seriously doubt that getting "honors" in your second major would much matter in other contexts. For example, when I interview recent grads (for permanent R&D positions), we only care about their relevant experience and knowledge...even GPA is not weighted very heavily, and a lack of departmental honors would make no difference at all.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.