Want to do research during your undergraduate years, but don’t know how to go about getting it? gators (also known as “PI’s”) expect a student to spend about 15-25 hours a week in lab. That amount tends to vary based on research, but it is a huge chunk of time when you have to balance it with academics and other activities. And on behalf of research groups, make sure you can dedicate a good amount of time to doing the research as it requires a sizable chunk of time for the lab members to teach you the skills and processes required.
And If you’re afraid of rejection, just remember: the worst thing a professor can say to you is “no.” Applying to positions will get easier based on the quantity— just go for it!
Still want to get a research position? Here are some tips that may just pay off:
1. Researching the Research (and the Professor)
For starters, begin by researching a number of different labs and creating a document to keep track of your research. I recommend creating an excel file with a link to the principal (?) investigator’s webpage and a column for general information about the research.
2. Reach Out!
University of California: Berkeley has really great resources with lists of research opportunities via programs such as URAP and research fairs. Definitely make use of them and it never hurts to apply to more and have more potential options.
Though we have those resources, showing up to a professor’s office hours and expressing interest in his/her work can also result in attaining a research position. Read up on the professor and engage them in an in-depth discussion about his/her research. On that same note, if you can, try reading a few of the professor’s published work, take notes, and jot down questions to bring up either in an email, phone call, or face-to-face encounter with him/her. The more you can impress a professor with your previous knowledge and curiosity, the more likely they will accept you.
3. If you don’t succeed, try again.
Feline a bit dejected over rejections? Aye, what a catastrophe. You’ll be fine– I’m not kitten around. :)
How many labs should one look into or reach out to? That number will vary based on your own background and the lab’s availability. Personally, I’ve talked with several who sent out around 30 emails to professors and only got one reply. If you’re curious about the writer’s personal experience, fortunately, all three laboratory positions I have applied to, I have gotten. (Note: That was not meant to be anything egotistical; it was just meant to add credibility.)
Regardless of how many rejections you get, just one positive response is sufficient as long as you end up getting a position, so just keep trying.
Even in the face of rejection, stay positive. If you are really interested in the research, ask the professor if there are any classes he/she recommends you take to learn more and if they would consider letting you in after a few more years.
On the note of rejections: Although it seems like undergraduates are “free labor,” it’s important to note that should a research lab take on the student, there is a chance that the quality of work for the first few months will be very low and the post-doc or PhD candidate will likely spend more time training that undergraduate student than actually getting publishable results. So, never take a rejection personally because there’s a lot riding on the professor and the post-doctoral student or PhD candidate.
Hope this helps and best of luck out there!
RCSA PD Committee
A/N: Top image was taken by Alex Tran for a high school news outlet. Bottom image was taken by this article’s author with a “meow” of permission from her bored cat.