Intern’s Eye View: Interested in Research? Need a Better Understanding?

Amy Hilgendorf


Erin Miller, a rising senior majoring in Community and Nonprofit Leadership in the School of Human Ecology, is the current intern for the Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies (the CommNS).



The Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies (the CommNS) engages in community-based and community centric research in partnership with communities across Wisconsin, as well as with nonprofits. Amy Hilgendorf, a Postdoctoral Research Associate for the CommNS, works directly on research projects and with students to build their research skills. Recently, we sat down with Amy to talk about common misperceptions undergraduate students may have about research and how they can get involved. Here are her thoughts on common misperceptions, qualities of a good researcher, and ways students can get involved.


Common Misconceptions about Research


Misconception 1: All research uses statistics.


The CommNS uses mixed methods for much of its research, often incorporating quantitative and qualitative approaches. Qualitative research is not number focused and often involves observing people and listening to what they have to say in order to develop an understanding of their lived experience.


Misconception 2: Research can only be done by people with a lot of education.


Students, non-professionals, and even children, can conduct research as long as they have an understanding of the research process and ability to look at research critically. It is more about the passion and curiosity for a topic that drives you to understand it better.


Misconception 3: Research work is isolated work.


Research is not just sitting at a computer crunching numbers alone. You must go out and engage with people to gather information and to understand the research you are doing. Research is an extremely collaborative effort at the CommNS, involving teams and collaborators from across campus and the community.


Misconception 4: Research is straightforward and boring.


Research can be extremely complicated! Research is trying to understand things that are not yet understood. It is the act of creating knowledge. That is no easy task.


Misconception 5: Research is too complicated.


At the same time, research does not have to be highly technical and complicated. Conducting research builds upon skills all people use everyday to make sense of their lives and make decisions. It involves interacting with people, places, things, and ideas.


Misconception 6: It is impossible to understand research unless you’re a researcher.


The CommNS makes it a priority to make research understandable to wide audiences. Community partners are involved in the process from start to finish. This model of research can be even more beneficial since the people who will be utilizing the research are considered from the start. Working with our community partners, we determine what research questions are most important to them to answer and what kinds of data and forms of dissemination are most useful to them.


Misconception 7: You need to know you want to be a researcher early to become one.


Becoming a researcher is not always at the forefront of someone’s career goals. Many people don’t know that research may be a good option for them. If you think you may have some interest in research or just want to know more about it, get involved and if you like it, you can build a path from there.



Getting Involved


We also asked Amy about the characteristics of a researcher and how to get involved as an undergraduate student.


What does it take to be a good researcher?

  • Curiosity
  • Dedication
  • Patience
  • Ability to build relationships, especially with folks different from yourself



How can students get involved?

  • Get involved in a formal opportunity such as an internship or UW’s Undergraduate Research Scholars program (
  • Receive course credit through an independent study and work on a particular project
  • Contact Amy Hilgendorf to receive help getting connected to researchers and research partners (
  • Talk to your Professors!

Professors in SoHE may be working on research projects that have  opportunities for undergraduates



Please view our Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies webpage.

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