Are you interested in getting involved with research at Michigan State University as an undergraduate student? Here’s a starting guide!
1. Finding what you like
For me, this was the hardest part about getting involved with research. I have so many interests and had zero experience with the different types of research. Additionally, I was not not sure who to ask. With a heavy science-based major and coursework, I did not know if I wanted to do the same thing out of class, but was conflicted that it might be the easiest and most beneficial path to go in for my career. This did not turn out to be true. You want to pick something that genuinely sparks your interest and can invest your valuable time in. Before getting involved, you need to do some “market research.” However, in this case, you are the market. What are your interests apart from your major? A good place to start is thinking about your minor, as we often pick minors that are a little bit more creative and closer to our interests. Next, attend a University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum on campus. What are different topics that people are researching about? Did any of it intrigue you? Maybe you could do some online research. What’s something you’ve always been curious about? It could be something totally outrageous, but what category/department would that fall under? Try looking at different research papers (short credited reviews online) and see what topics interest you.
This may seem like it’s the scariest part. Networking does not equal popularity. You do not need to have a bunch of friends or know people within the field or with experience. Do not let this scare you! Networking can mean reaching out to anyone that you may not know with the experience you wish to seek. People on campus want to help. Whether it be through social media or directly through the Michigan State Undergraduate Research website, ask questions! Someone along the way will share their experience if not help you reach your goal. Additionally, reach out to people in your student organizations or class group chats. Networking with your peers is a great way to start!
3. Meeting with a mentor
Undergraduate research has student representatives who share their research journeys! You can meet with them or faculty members themselves. I have had a lot of friends have success scheduling zoom meetings or using office hours as a way to talk with professors about their research experience, the advice they have for you, and where to start. Professors have a lot of connections to different labs! Even if they cannot offer you a position themselves, they want to help, and will keep you in the back of their mind or refer you over to their colleagues. Overall, it is always helpful to hear advice from experienced professors who have gone through intense research themselves.
4. Finding a lab
I found my lab through one of my favorite classes I took for my minor. Having enjoyed the course content so much, I thought it would be perfect to conduct research under the topics of the class. I reached out to the professor immediately to set up a meeting to talk more about her research. Before this, make sure you are thoroughly prepared. Do your research on the professor, the lab they work in, what type of work they do, and what their academic interests are. To solidify your choice, read their work! Do you enjoy their work and their methods in conducting research? Are their prior research papers interesting to you, do the topics fascinate you? Another method is to cold call. This is commonly what is told to underclassmen interested in research. Cold calling is effective and there are a lot of resources on how to draft your emails for the different labs, however, I found going through a class is more effective due to your existing relationship with the professor. Additionally, use platforms such as Handshake to search for open positions, a lot are paid! There are constant openings, most prominently before each semester and summers.
I hope this article helps you as a guide for your first steps into research! Don’t be too hard on yourself, rejections are normal! Don’t let that discourage you from your final goal.