Hi studyblr community! This is my first original post; I hope it serves you well! I got my research position through a program in my school, so the process was a little more formal at first (I had to write essays), but I still used these when it came down to communicating with my PI (principal investigator). Good luck!
THINGS YOU SHOULD CONSIDER BEFORE LOOKING FOR A LAB
1. Do you have time to do this? Don’t just think about gaps between classes in your schedule. Think about how hard your classes are and how much time you need outside of class for homework and studying. Orgo and psych might both be one hour classes, but they are definitely not going to require the same amount of time outside of class. You need blocks of time (3 to 4 hours at a time) to spend in lab.
2. What kinds subjects are you interested in? Those departmental websites are where you’re going to be looking. (Don’t be shy about looking into research that isn’t within your major. You never know what kind of answers you’ll get!)
3. What kind of work are you expecting to do? Do you want to do benchwork (wet lab)? Or do you want to do things that are more computational (dry lab)?
1. If you were really interested and did well in one of your classes this semester, look up that professor’s website. Read about their areas of research, or…
2. Go to your major’s website (or website of any other department you were interested in) and find the faculty list. Start reading everyone’s research interests.
3. For the professors whose work catches your eye, go to their lab websites and do some more reading! (Better learn to love it now; research is a lot of reading.) Look up journal articles authored by these professors (pay attention to the year they were published. More recent ones will give you a better idea of what could be going on in their labs right now). You don’t have to understand everything in the article. At the very least, read the abstract and skim through the introduction and conclusion. This will give you a better feel of the problem and what was accomplished in the project. It’s important to know this stuff because you’re going to…
3. E-mail the professors! And don’t write cookie cutter e-mails. Individualize each e-mail and make sure to voice your genuine interest in that lab’s work.
1. Be concise. Ain’t nobody got time to read your perfectly crafted 5-paragraph essay on why you should be taken into the lab.
2. Introduce yourself, your year, and your major. If you’ve taken relevant coursework, you could mention that too.
3. Mention that you came across the professor’s research and be specific about what caught your attention.
4. Say that you’d like to talk to them about their research (this is code for “Please can I work with you?”)
5. Only send a few e-mails at a time. If you don’t get a reply after a couple of days, you could send a second e-mail as a follow-up. If you get a no, respond courteously. You could ask one more time and insist that you really loved their research, or you could just politely thank them for their response and wish them the best. If you get a yes (congrats!), find a time and place to meet the professor, and ask if there’s anything they’d like you to read in preparation for the meeting.
6. DON’T BE DISCOURAGED IF YOU DON’T GET AN ANSWER OR IF YOU WERE TOLD NO. KEEP LOOKING!
1. I’ve been told that the meeting is basically like an interview, but my “interview” was really casual and not something I should’ve stressed out about at all. I still wore something nice (casual dressy).
2. If the professor gave you something to read, do your best to read it. Don’t freak out if you don’t understand, but don’t just read it without trying to understand. Google any recurring words and phrases that you don’t know (odds are that if they appear often, they’re probably important). Write notes and questions down (even if it’s more technical ones like “how does this work?”).
3. If you didn’t get anything to read, try to look up past papers again and skim anyway. Take notes and come up with questions. Don’t go in there without having anything to say or ask.
4. When reading scientific literature, don’t dwell on the details of the methodology. Go for understanding the big picture: what kind of work came before this paper? What were the findings of the paper? What are the implications for future research? What’s the next step?
5. At the meeting, admit that you didn’t catch much of what you read (it’s humbling and very likely to be true). Ask questions and talk about what you did understand.
6. At the end, thank them for meeting with you and ask about openings in the lab. If they have one and offer it to you, thank them and say that you’d like a few days first. Ask if they could talk to other students in the lab so you can get a feel for the environment. Also ask about who you’d be working with, what their project is, etc. You want to know what you’re getting into.
7. Once you’ve made your decision, e-mail the professor.
IN THE LAB
1. ASK QUESTIONS WHENEVER YOU’RE UNSURE OF ANYTHING. If you have anxiety like me, it’s scary. Admitting you don’t know something is anxiety-inducing, especially when you’re in an environment where everyone has tons more background knowledge than you. THAT’S OKAY. You’re new. You’re an undergraduate student. Of course you don’t know as much as everyone! You are here to learn and you learn by asking questions. SO ASK!!!
2. If you’ve made a mistake, don’t try to cover it up. TELL SOMEONE ASAP! Be honest and responsible!
2. Keep a notebook with you so you can take notes on lab procedures. Be diligent!
3. If things aren’t going well (you’ve lost interest, trouble with your mentor, etc.), talk to your PI. It’s not fair to you to be doing work you’re not excited about (this is an extra-curricular activity, after all), and it’s also not exactly productive to the lab to have someone who doesn’t really like being there anyway. You have to love research to do it well!
4. Do your best. People are using their time and resources to train you. In return, you should dedicate yourself to it! (Doing your best does not mean sacrifice your emotional, physical, and/or mental well-being. Understand where your boundaries are and stick to them.)
5. If you’re pre-med, this is a way for you to illustrate your passions. Research can end up being a talking point for you if you end up dedicating a lot of your time and energy into it!