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Research in College: Everything You Need To Know

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Ohio U chapter.

Whether you are majoring in chemical engineering, journalism, or musical therapy, there are millions of ways to get involved on your campus in research. The best part? You don’t need to follow your major into research! You can get involved in a microbiology lab as a business major or an economic project as a dance major. Research projects are always needing parts and curiosity is in our nature to explore. Take finding this article as a sign to not just follow research in your major unless you are dying of curiosity about the lab or project itself! But before I ramble on and on about everything you can do, let’s start with the basics…

what is research?

Research is such a general term in college. It could be a simple Google form sent out to the student population to find out how often each major studies or it can be a two phase project that tests muscular strength after being at rest for extended amount of time. In my opinion, research is a question that is dying to be answered and that can be answered with an experiment. All areas of life have a search aspect to it. Therefore, no matter what you are interested in, there will be a project that you can join or create! Alas, I can describe what research means to me, or I could give you a glimpse into the research labs that are ongoing at colleges all around the world:

  • The Duerr Lab: This fascinating lab works with C. elegans to understand the nervous systems of more complex organisms.
  • The Basso Lab: This lab located at Ohio State University works with spinal cord injuries and their recovery.
  • Amodio Lab: This NYU Lab focuses on how social attitudes and beliefs are formed, expressed, and changed.
  • Stanford Digital Economic Lab: This lab focuses on how digital technology is affecting the economy.
  • The Dollár Lab: This Miami University engineering lab works on nano-crystalline materials and inter-metallic compounds.

Although these are just a few labs I pulled out of a hat, there are millions all across the country and more across the world. Start looking in your college, but don’t be afraid to explore outside of it!

When should you start?

Short answer: whenever you want! Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not experienced enough to be in research because the point of being in a lab is to gain the experience. On the other hand, don’t feel pressured to jump into a project if you don’t feel ready. Research is a not a checklist plan. It is a burning passion for the unknown, and it is something you have to want to learn about. There’s nothing wrong with talking to a professor about their research, but don’t make the jump unless you know you find the project at least a little interesting.

HOw do you start?

Emailing and talking and emailing and talking and emailing… you get the point. Communication! It is how we all learn and understand each other. Do not wait around hoping a professor might walk up to you and ask if you want to join their lab because it is unlikely to happen. Instead, there are two ways I suggest you start with.

The first is the ideal situation. You’re sitting in your class and your professor is captivating your attention about their research. Whether is be a quick plug or they use it as an example, it fascinates you and you want, no need, to know more. Well, great news! Your professor did not just bring it up for fun, rather they know the people in your class would find it interesting, and maybe even interesting enough to talk to them about it. This brings me to the first form of communication: talking. Set up a meeting, go to office hours, or chat after class! Maybe you see them in the public (I know it’s crazy to see they are real people). Go and start up a conversation and tell them that you find their research interesting. Once you’ve started the conversation, it will be hard to stop. Your professor will see your interest and will give you more details about individual projects, group projects, and ways you could even join! That is the dream! But let’s be honest… it isn’t always that easy.

The second way is how I got involved in research. I was a wee little freshman and I went with some friends to a research fair. It sounded fun, but I wasn’t planning on looking for anything in particular. About 10 minutes into the fair, I found a poster about N. gonnorrhaea. I listened to the presentation and I was hooked. I was, and still am, a pre-medical student and I always believed that I would find a lab that worked with people and muscles and diabetes. However, I found myself falling down the microbiology rabbit hole and I was hooked. But there was one problem… I didn’t know the professor of the lab. He was an upper level microbiology professor who only taught two senior level courses. How was I supposed to find out more about this lab? \

Cue the scary music for Gen Z texters…. I emailed him. I hate emailing. I’m bad at it, I don’t know formatting, and I never know how to start, end, or even relay the message I want to say. Good news is I found a million articles with formats and tips on how to reach out and I sent out a basic, “what is your lab?” email. Within a week, I received one back with information and asking if I’d like to set up a meeting to talk more. And that was the beginning of my life as a researcher. Not every professor will be as quick or as willing to throw up a meeting. Many projects have already begun or are finishing up, so don’t be discouraged!

What if they say no?

To start, you are not alone. Before I sent out the email to the lab I am in now, I sent an email to a heart attack lab and the professor never emailed me back. This will happen. Professors are busy people, their lab might be full, or they might require you have taken classes that you haven’t. But do not give up! There are many many labs out there and one no can be followed by 10 yeses. Keep in mind the ones you didn’t get into because sometimes all you have to do is resend another email, ask again in a year, or take the class you haven’t.

Hi! I am Maddie! I am a science major who loves all branches on the tree of life! I am a huge nerd about microbiology, animal anatomy, health disparities, Appalachian culture, feminism in science, and chemistry!