Advice: How do I get into a research lab?
This is a very common question that I would get from other undergraduate students.
First and foremost, I want to let everyone know this: Regardless of your experience and class level, it is not impossible for you to get into a research lab.
From my experiences and from what most underclassmen have told me, an underlying myth that deters most students from joining research labs early on is that it is extremely competitive to get into a research lab and impossible to join one inexperienced. Keep in mind, as an undergraduate member of a research lab, you are free labor. If you are willing to commit the time to learn the area of research and perform their experiments, you are basically gold to the mentors.
Now that I have gotten that out of the way, here is a simple guideline to getting into your dream lab.
- Do your research! - Actually take the time to look through the professor’s research page, read through some of their published papers: really get an idea what kind of research the professor does. Not only would this impress the professor that you took the time and effort to learn about their work, but it will also help you decide if the lab is a right fit for you early on.
- Make a list of the labs you are interested in - It is rare that you will get into that one lab you applied for, so always have options!
- E-mail the professors - In the e-mail, it is best to type up a paragraph or so introducing yourself, reasons why you want to join his/her research lab, and how much/long you are willing to work in his/her lab. It is also essential that you attach your resume with related coursework and so forth; most professors get plenty of e-mails from other students, so if you do not attach a resume, they may not consider you.
- Follow up - If the professor does not e-mail back right away, do not fret! After a week, send another e-mail to follow up; professors usually get a plethora of e-mails so it is very easy for your e-mail to get lost. Also, do not be afraid to e-mail to schedule a meeting with the professor about their research labs. Most oftentimes when professors see you in person, it helps improve your chances of making it into the lab, as they can put a face onto your application.
Keep in mind, the selectivity of the professors will vary; some professors will take in undergraduates readily, some professors may selectively take in undergraduates, while others may not take any undergraduates. If you do not get into your dream lab the first time around, do not worry; simply meet with the mentor and identify key things that you can improve for the next time around. At that point, you either have the option to join another lab or wait a little while to have more classes under your belt, and even try again the next semester.
Overall, applying to research labs is an arduous process, but persistence and effort will go a long way!
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask.
I’M SO EXCITED!
I just accepted an opportunity from a professor at the BU Med Campus to be a research assistant! http://www.bumc.bu.edu/biochemistry/people/faculty/zhijun-luo/ I’m so nervous and excited. Now to politely decline the other offers….
The prospect of me not getting a sophomore research position is literally making me sick to my stomach.
I can’t even offer to work for free just to gain the experience because I literally need this and possibly another job (i already applied for 10 within the chemistry department, and am also worried I won’t be getting any) to pay for my education.
this is also part of the reason I’m TERRIFIED of changing my major to something non-science related because I will be shut out of so many research opportunities both within my school and paid internships/research elsewhere. NOT TO MENTION after college getting a job a) in a growing industry b)in an industry that pays well c)that will help me pay off all this fucking debt i’m accumulating to get a goddamn piece of paper that says I’m fucking smart and a measley tootsie roll that costs maybe 1 penny, not 1.5 years of pulling your hair out/ insane overtime in the lab and the carrel.
Maybe I should focus on this year...?
I want to transfer to Cornell! I don’t care anymore if transferring to a school with such a fabulous Asian Studies program delays my graduation!
Their East Asian Studies program is amazing, they have the perfect linguistics courses, and the FALCON program looks incredible!
Oh imagine… I could treat this year as an intensive Chinese language year (which is exactly what it is) and then finish up my last two years at Cornell while simultaneaously refining my Chinese and learning Japanese…
Look at these beautiful courses!
Pop Culture in China
Intro to Japan/China/South Asia/Korea (4 separate courses)
Families in China Since the 17th Century
Popular Culture of Japan
Cinema and Anime in Japan
Meditation in Indian Culture
Art of War in Ancient China
The House and the World: Architecture of Asia
History of Medicine and Healing in China
Translation and Cultural Difference
Methodology of Asian Language Learning and Teaching
Theorizing Gender and Race in Asian Histories and Literatures
Seminar in Japanese Thought
China’s Economy Under Mao and Deng
Introduction to Classical Chinese
Tang Poetry: Themes and Contexts
Japanese Film and Gender Theory
And so many, many more… plus they offer language courses in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Hindi, etc! Amazing, amazing.
History of the Romance Languages
History of the Japanese Language
Linguistic Structure of Japanese
Introduction to Cognitive Science
Psychology of Language
Introduction to Gaelic
History of the English Language to 1300 (and one from 1300)
Language and History in the British Isles
Introduction to Historical Linguistics
Minority Languages and Linguistics
etc. It’s endless! And there are other classes in the history of select languages (but not Chinese!)
And they have several other courses in other academic departments not at all related to Asian Studies that look extremely interesting (Chef’s Chemistry or Wines and Vines Laboratory, anyone?).
Plus, they have the FALCON program, which is an intensive, full-time language learning program for the VERY accelerated acquisition of Chinese or Japanese.
After graduation from undergrad I’m also thinking of applying to WWOOF and farming for a few months somewhere, then maybe I could go to China and Japan to teach English (but with ESL training and certification first this time!) and then go to Australian National University for graduate school… they have amazing Asian Studies and translation graduate programs. Dreaming, dreaming, dreaming. So many Asian Studies-related things I want to do!
Being here has already taught me a little about going for what you want in spite of whatever obstacles life puts in your way. I’m over being a defeatist! Onwards! To the not-so-impossible future!
…I only wish I could be accepted to these schools…
Re: "Dear Anxious Pre-Med People"
Geez, if this post keeps accumulating further confessions of pre-med average-ness from physicians, it’s gonna really decrease confidence in the average Doctor IQ.
OR — it’ll just be more proof that US pre-med undergrad science requirements have very little to do with preparing or qualifying people to become good doctors… hmm…