by Angelica Omaiye, Seattle University
Of course, you probably already understand the importance of undergraduate research. It gives you hands-on, professional experience, making you a better candidate for graduate study and opening doors for future work. You’ll probably get the opportunity to present your hard work at research conferences to professionals across the globe. You may even have a paper or two published before graduation! If you don’t believe me, there are a ton of studies that demonstrate the positive impacts undergraduate research has on behavior and learning style.
I could go on and on about these amazing benefits, but what my peers and I were more confused about was: how do I actually find a research position? Here are the two easiest, simplest ways you can start doing research (and making your dreams come true).
1) Ask your teachers. Don’t wait around thinking your professors will ask you if you want a position in their lab. Be proactive. A common misconception in my class year was that students started their research only after their teachers approached them. Although this works for some, 9/10* undergraduates are getting experience in the lab because they approached their teachers. Find a professor who is doing work that interests you. Show them your interest in their project and your willingness and ability to help.
Faculty biographies on your school’s website are a perfect place to start if you’re not sure what kind of work each professor is doing. When you’ve found a couple of projects that really interest you, try looking at a some of each professor’s most recent publications to really get a feel of the work being done. If you’re still interested, shoot them an e-mail or pay them a visit during their office hours to talk about how you can help.
Conversely, if you have any friends who are working in a lab that you want to be a part of, don’t be scared to ask them to put in a good word for you or see if there’s any way you can get in through them. Networking is an important tool!
2) Look for a summer internship. If you are not able to get or are not interested in the opportunities offered at your school, don’t be discouraged. There are literally hundreds available to you! I got my first internship by e-mailing nearly every biotech company within a 10-mile radius of my school to see if they had anything open. Although I don’t really advise this, I did learn something very important: most companies have summer programs for undergraduates to do research. Look for a company that you want to work with, and see what they have for you.
Not sure of which research institutions are around? Some websites, (ASBMB included) actually have databases that make the search easier. Your school is a great resource for this too, with internship fairs, career centers, flyers around campus, to name a few. Ask around!
If money is an issue for you, many of these defy the ‘unpaid internship’ stereotype; in fact they pay really well and some have housing discounts if you end up somewhere far from home. Depending on the people you are working for, this may even turn into a year-long internship or after graduation career!
I hope with these two simple tips in mind, you are able to find a research opportunity or two (or three or four) that you’re really passionate about. Maybe one day we will meet, presenting our work to each other or working on a graduate thesis together, all because of the opportunities we took advantage of in our undergraduate career. Good luck!!
Keep in mind that these are coming from my own experiences, so if you have any other tips, tricks, things that worked really well, or things that didn’t work at all, please leave a comment below.
*This is a real number I collected based on other students working with a professor at my university. No, I did not do any error calculations.