In addition to broadening your perspective on research, you might be able to get academic credit for your work as a research assistant. If you're heavily involved in the project and it's successful, you may receive an acknowledgment in a journal article, a presentation at a professional conference, or perhaps even coauthorship on a journal article. An added benefit of working closely with a faculty member on his or her research is that the faculty member will get to know you well and can write a letter of recommendation that describes your potential for succeeding in graduate school. By working with you over time, he or she will be able to describe your skills and strengths in a much more detailed way than if you were simply a student in class.
What If Professors Aren't Doing Interesting Research?
Remember that your research experience doesn't have to be in your area of interest. Any research experience will help. Besides, sometimes it's good to get involved in different areas of research because you may discover new interests. As an undergraduate, a variety of broad experiences that provide you with a taste of several research areas is better than conducting research only in your area of interest. Of course, if you're completely disinterested in the research topic it might be difficult to remain motivated and do a good job. Understand your interest level and limits when deciding whether to assist a faculty member with his or her research because poor or inconsistent work will not be helpful and can hurt your chances for a persuasive letter of recommendation that benefits your application to graduate school. Regardless of the research topic, many of the tasks that research assistants complete can be tedious: copying, sharpening pencils, administering surveys, entering data into SPSS, and so on. Sure, some of these tasks are boring, but they're necessary for completing the research project.
Be a Responsible Research Assistant
If you get involved in research remember that the faculty member is depending on you. He or she can't afford to have assistants who are unreliable or careless. Agreeing to assist a faculty member with his or her research is a big commitment that you shouldn't take lightly. Your research tasks should come first - treat the research project as a class and be diligent. There's nothing worse than a student who is enthusiastic at first but disappears or performs inconsistent and careless work. The research project gets disrupted, tasks often must be completed again, and the faculty member loses faith in the student. If you find yourself in such a situation, you won't be able to ask the faculty member for a letter of recommendation. Also understand that faculty talk - other professors may learn about the quality of your work which can influence your interactions with them as well. In other words, if you're going to assist a professor with his or her research, be responsible or you may not like the consequences.