Assume that I am an computer science undergraduate, and I am interested in how studying distractions influence exam scores in the long run, i.e. do you gain a tolerance by studying with distractions eventually?

If I had done significant investigation in this area and found that there were no previous research on such a matter, is it possible for me to get this project started, although I have no experience in the related field (in this particular example, cognitive sciences)?

If so, how?

2 Answers 2


TL;DR: This is possible, but there are costs and you need to decide whether this is worth your while in the long run.

At the undergraduate level, there is some benefit to you learning about research methods. I find that undergraduate students get a better sense of the breadth and messiness of research methods when actually engaged in a research project. In my view, this experience can take place in a number of fields, although I would prefer that this not be the case. The reason is because the experience of research is much more than the method. Beginning students can pick up research habits that are at odds with the way research is conducted in their own field.

Let me give you an example. A medical student wanted to do a systematic review on health promoting hospital design on patient outcomes. She was interested in a particular approach involving an architectural perspective, so she partnered with the academics from the School of Architecture. Now, systematic reviews are performed quite differently in architecture than in medicine. The systematic review was completed and it was a confusing read because the approach was strange. She submitted it to a medical conference with no luck, but it did get accepted in an architecture conference. Good on her. Still, given that her main academic field is medicine, she has admitted to me that she had found it difficult to unlearn some of the habits she picked up in the research project and wished that she had learned within the field.

In another example, I often have quite a number of research tasks requiring completion and regularly issue invitations to undergraduate students to work with me. These tasks involve clinical contexts -- osteomyelitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, obstructive sleep apnoea -- that may not be relevant to student assistants from the Department of Civil Engineering or the Department of English Literature. I don't reject student volunteers because of their degree, but inform them that the techniques that they will learn may be less relevant to their degrees.

Good luck to you.


I am also an undergraduate and so cannot speak to the long-term benefits or cost, but can share my personal experience with this issue: I previously worked on a research project in a field outside my own, much as you are proposing. I ended up enjoying the project so much that I changed my major and continued doing research in the new field.

In my case, this was a benefit. However, if you end up enjoying your project in a new field even more than you enjoy your own, this could become a cost if changing fields is costly or undesirable.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .