So, you’ve decided you want to try out the world of scientific research! Good for you. You may have fun and love it or you may discover it is not for you. We’ve talked about the benefits before, so now let’s drill down on the nitty-gritty. How do you get involved?
If it exists on your campus, I suggest you make your first stop the undergraduate research office. These people have a wealth of information and can help you identify mentors and explain what the research program is like at the school. At one institution where I worked, there was a whole undergrad research program, including classes and a distinction you could earn by completing a research thesis. I would routinely get emails from the undergrad office about students looking to do research.
If survey courses about research exist on your campus, these can be excellent resources to check the water and see if you may like it. At one institution where I worked, faculty could offer 1-credit small seminar courses in research. I routinely taught one in Clinical Research and enjoyed showing the undergrads all the opportunities which exist. I brought in guest speakers and some of the students ended up working with them. Other students in the class asked me to direct them to potential mentors.
You may be able to search for faculty research interests on your institution’s website and then contact those which interest you. I’ll write a later post about how to email potential research mentors. Realize if you are ‘cold emailing’ you may not get a response, so come up with a backup plan. Creating a short list of potential mentors is the safe bet.
Finally, if you have had any contact with a faculty member with whom you think you could get along, you can reach out to them. This is probably a faculty member teaching a small, upper-level course and who may know your name. It’s usually best to make this request near the end of the semester or at the start of the next one, to avoid any appearance of bias during the course.
Once you have an appointment scheduled with a potential research mentor, treat it like an interview. Ask them questions about how they like to work with undergrads. Remember, the purpose of this is to find out if you’re a good fit- you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Be sure to ask what your responsibilities will be, if you will be an author on an eventual publication, with whom you will be working, and what the time commitment is.
If you decide to pursue research, make sure to do it well. Show up, be enthusiastic, and be helpful. What questions do you have about how to get involved in research?