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I've been asking around my department recently for opportunities assisting with research (I'm in electrical engineering). Some of my professors work in labs, but others do largely computer-based work. The computer-based work interests me more.

I understand research experience is very important when applying to grad school. What do graduate admissions committees really consider "research", though? Is it working in a lab? Is it "contributing to some certain extent to a research project?" Is it simply helping out a professor with his research? Is more independent-study type work considered research? Or is it necessary to be actively helping a professor with their research program?

As an undergraduate sophomore, I'm really not in a position to do groundbreaking research. What's considered a good research experience for me?

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    If you name ends up on a peer reviewed publication there won't be any questions... – dmckee Apr 26 '15 at 1:34
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Is more independent-study type work considered research? Or is it necessary to be actively helping a professor with their research program?

In my experience, it's best to be actively interacting with a professor. But in most cases it's unlikely you'll be actively assisting with their research programs (they have usually have graduate students/postdocs for that).

You could be given either a small project related to their funded work or possibly some crazy idea they're unwilling to let a grad student spend time on. Or anything in between.

What do graduate admissions committees really consider "research", though?

If you can do any work that results in something published in a journal or conference, or even a poster, will be very valuable for graduate school admissions. It doesn't matter if that work is lab or computer-based. (Better yet if you can prove (with a publication/poster) that you can do both "wet" and "dry" lab work.)

As an undergraduate sophomore, I'm really not in a position to do groundbreaking research. What's considered a good research experience for me?

When I was a junior I emailed every professor in the department. Two responded and I ended up doing "independent research credits" with one of them. It worked out really well.

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Pretty much all of the things that you list count as research. The best possible thing would be to end up as the first author of a publication, but that is rare. In general, anything that gives you some experience with the process of research and demonstrates that you are able to contribute to it is a good thing.

More to the point: anything that will cause your professor to feel they can honestly write about what excellent potential you have to become a researcher is good.

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In my university the faculties of medicine, pharmaceutics and physiotherapy have a 'position' you can acquire called student-researcher. This is classified as a course and you get credits for it. The purpose is to spend and work at least 20 days in a research lab during the summer holidays (and eventually during the school year). All you have to do is pass your classes and contact a professor who conducts research in your field of interest. Usually for the day-to-day you will be supervised by one of his PhD students. There are not many students that participate, even though it is highly regarded at our university (although it's popularity is increasing). In some cases student-researchers will end up being co-author to a publication and very rarely even first author. There is also an abstract competition and seminar organised for participants.

Here is the link to the site. Even though it is in Dutch, if you would want more information you could run it through a translator or ask me in a comment.

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