One of the most daunting tasks in college is finding a research group where you can hopefully have the opportunity to publish in a scientific journal. Scientific article publishing, poster presentations, and general research exposure are invaluable experiences for the prospective medical student. Unfortunately, the increasing class size of public universities has made it difficult for students to find the right research mentor. This fact, however, should neither diminish the importance of conducting research nor deter you from participating in one of the most creative and exciting experiences of college. With persistence and know-how, that research position can be yours. Here are a few guidelines on how to get research opportunities in college:
1) Identify Your Interests
A great way to confirm the type of research you are passionate about is by reading scientific articles. They don’t have to be professional journal articles. Try reading the New York Times Science and Health sections to see what really interests you. Better yet, enroll in an introductory biomedical research course to get an idea of what the process and professors are like. Make a list, but be sure you are at least somewhat interested in each topic. By reading various scientific articles, it’ll ultimately help you find research opportunities you’re interested in.
2) Target Potential Mentors
It is never too late to join a lab, but professors are looking for individuals they can train and teach for at least two years. These professors are supposed to be your mentors after all. Arguably, the summer before the coming academic year is the best time to start looking for a lab. This timetable is when professors are usually not lecturing and are a little more relaxed. Aside from the occasional overseas conferences, they are generally free. Summer opportunities are great and usually lead to a full-year volunteer position. Remember, timing is a big part of landing that research position.
3) Finding the Right Place
There are several ways to go about finding research opportunities and the one you pick largely depends on the resources available to you. The easiest approach is to start with your research department of interest and visit the departmental web page. The faculty contact information and recent list of publications are usually available for your perusal. Most schools also have an approved list of research faculty in the form of a student research program. Now, branch out from a specific department and visit the web pages of your secondary interests. Cast a wide net and make a list of those research groups that interest you while saving their publications for the future. The next thing you can do is utilize your network of friends and colleagues. See if there are any lab openings for an undergraduate position in a friend’s lab. Inquire about the type of research performed and ask if you can visit the lab. Also, ask what times are best to come by the professor’s office. Lastly, get involved in a formal university program that links students with research faculty. A research minor program is an excellent way to get involved. A formal university summer program is also an option. Keep in mind that most of these programs require a written application of interest. The aforementioned methods are a great way to begin finding research opportunities.
4) Pitch Your Passion for Research
Let’s face it, most e-mails and resumes you write to professors will often get overlooked or glanced at, making your first impression that much more important. Make sure you are familiar with the respective professor and his research. First, explain your personal research interests. Always address the bigger picture and where you want your research to take you. Next, relate your area of interest to the professor’s specific, published research. Reading the article abstracts are a good place to start. How does his/her work apply to what you want to accomplish in the lab? Above all, show obvious passion in his/her work, and don’t be afraid to geek out a bit.
5) Be Persistent
Don’t give up after one e-mail. Try and schedule a one-on-one meeting or just drop by the professor’s office for a few minutes. You can take a class that he/she lectures, attend office hours regularly, and get that A+. You will be surprised at the doors it opens. Persistence shows initiative and this quality is a huge part of your success as a researcher.
These tips helped me land my first position at a research group which turned out to be the most maturing experience of my undergraduate career. Persistence is by far the most important thing to keep in mind when hunting for research opportunities and when you are persistent, good timing is bound to come your way eventually. If you make the best use of all the resources available to you and demonstrate genuine passion for innovation, someone will take notice. Good luck!
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