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Re: Undergraduate Research: What's most useful?
When you say "What's most useful", I'm going to assume you mean "What's most useful in order to get into a grad program"
Frankly, your research at this stage is unlikely to be very sophisticated. This is not a personal put down, but a testament to the fact that doing good and useful research is not easy, and doubly so when you haven't started grad work yet. I point this out to say that your objective right now in RAing should be pretty much orthogonal to thoughts of publication, presenting, etc. (though if you can do these things, great). Same goes for your thesis.
Your goal right now as an RA, and even largely in your thesis, is *to get the best recommendation letters possible*. Grad admissions committees give substantial weight to rec letters, as these are their peers (your professors) vouching for your promise as a future academic based on the work they've seen you do.
So, in this light, what should be your focus? In your RA work, it's helpful if you can work with someone who publishes regularly and in top journals; this gives more weight to their word when they write your letter. Demonstrate through your work that you are thoughtful, careful, insightful, and generally cut-out for this grad school and research stuff. If you have suggestions that you think are valuable and might add to the project you're working on, mention them. Show your professor you can think critically about research. Same applies for your thesis. Grad admissions committees are unlikely to read your thesis (many don't even ask for a writing sample, and even those that do may look it over in 5-10 minutes). You don't need to write a good thesis for adcoms to read it; you need to write a good thesis so your letter writers can read it and talk about how great your project was in their letter. You will have to decide for yourself whether you can write an insightful theory paper or not, and where your strengths lie here.
Doing a large share of data work does not necessarily mean this position isn't worthwhile. As mentioned by tutonic, lots of applied work is data work, and this is especially so as an RA. You should ask yourself whether you're able to still demonstrate your abilities as a researcher in this position. Are you copying numbers from a pdf into Excel sheets? This is probably not useful for you. Or, are you working with code, dealing with data that may have some problems in it, inspecting the data and giving thought to possible concerns you may have in it (missing values, other weird things showing up)? These things can be useful in showing your prof that you have promise in research. Some writing is also very helpful. It doesn't have to be writing parts of a paper. Even if your prof asks you to write brief summaries of some results you've put together for her/him or something like this, again this can be very valuable in signaling your ability.
So, in case I didn't harp on it enough... letters.