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Scoring An Undergraduate Research Position

Did you hope to find the cure for cancer or design the world’s smartest computer once you came to Hopkins, this awesome institution? Well, I’m guessing you want to be a part of groundbreaking research at JHU. To pursue a career in academia, many students at Hopkins get involved with research down at the medical campus and in the labs at Homewood. The innovative work of Hopkins faculty covers every subject imaginable and often includes involvement from motivated undergraduates. However, if you have yet to gain laboratory experience apart from required laboratory courses, finding research positions can be a scary task. But the key to success is to be prepared. Professors aren’t bothered by a rookie research student as long as the student is ambitious and driven to learn. If you are interested in conducting research in a lab, here are some useful tips to getting started!

1. Build your resume:  

With our busy lives at Hopkins, it’s easy to procrastinate on stuff outside of Differential Equation problem sets or Public Health papers. Hopefully, your resume isn’t that incomplete or nonexistent Microsoft Word document sitting on your desktop. You have to finish your resume! No excuses. Your resume is critical for showing PI’s (the Principal Investigator, a.k.a. the professor or researcher in charge of the lab) and graduate students the type of person you are and why you would be desirable in their lab. Like your Facebook profile, your resume is the first place people look at to find your interests, strengths, and other intriguing personal characteristics. Not to mention, professors usually ask undergraduates seeking lab positions for resumes.

Ensure your resume has a tidy layout. Using the JHU Career Center, Google, or other sources of assistance, you can find great examples of layouts. Make sure to include your contact information on your resume. Also, when adding descriptions to your extracurricular activities or work experience, be concise and detailed. As a tip, you may want to remove any high school activities or experiences from your resume. College resumes generally need your high school information only as a reference for previous education.

2. Find Your Aspirations:

Before you Google search the entire staff directory of every building on campus for researchers and professors, hold up and get yourself organized! You should have a clear idea of the type of research you want participate in and your motivation for immersing into that field of lab work. This will help you pinpoint different departments in your search. You can definitely do research outside of your major, so look for places that you find truly interesting.

PI’s and graduate students may also want to know that your participation in their work will benefit your future goals and careers. For example, if you want to do Alzheimer’s research for a PhD, work in a brain science lab that teaches you the skills in handling neurophysiology equipment and specific laboratory procedures that can be carried onto your post undergraduate endeavors.


3. Arm Yourself with Knowledge:

After you find professors and researchers that you would like to inquire for lab work, find their Hopkins web page. Read through the lab’s recent publications and learn about the PI of the lab. You wouldn’t want to be caught clueless if the PI asks for your input on the lab’s current work. Knowing specific details about the place where you want to work will also show the PI and graduate students your determination since you’ve put effort in familiarizing yourself with their environment.

4. Good Communication Skills:

One of the easiest ways to communicate is through e-mail. When reaching out to professors and researchers, be clear and concise. Avoid typing wordy messages that expand on every single reason you’re looking for research work. PI’s are busy people, so a lengthy e-mail may be bothersome. The first e-mail to a PI should include your resume and a short summary of your intentions. You may also want to include your interest in specific experiments or research projects. Lastly, be open to further communication, such as meeting up with the PI over coffee or spending a day shadowing a graduate student in the lab.

5. Don’t Freak Out

The process if getting a laboratory position may take time. Don’t think that constantly contacting a professor or researcher will help. Only send a follow-up e-mail when you don’t receive a reply from a PI within 1-2 weeks. In an unfortunate situation where you are politely turned down, ask the PI for contact information of other Hopkins faculty that might be looking for undergraduate students.




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