The Struggles of Finding Undergrad Research Opportunities

Attending a Tier One Research University can be really exciting. The size of the student body means that there are a wide range of opportunities, classes, scholarships, clubs, and resources available to students of all levels, especially those who are completing their undergraduate degree. If you attended orientation, I’m sure you heard the full list of benefits to which you now have access. Additionally, if you are in STEM, I’m sure a solid 20 minutes of orientation was devoted to outlining the ease of finding research opportunities during your undergraduate years. However, despite what your orientation leaders tried to convince you of, it can still be deceivingly difficult to find a good lab position.

In fact, it’s really easy to feel like the only person in your major who has not been with their lab since their second week at the University, but I promise you, you are not alone. As an honors student in her third year, with research opportunities always just slightly out of reach, I have figured out a system that will make your search a little bit easier.

1) Start earlier than you think you need to

Seriously, this process can take a while, and starting early will take a lot of the pressure off of you while you look.

 

2) Be prepared to send multiple emails to the same person

It’s amazing just how flakey professors can be… In my experience many professors don’t see anything wrong with taking three to four weeks to respond.

 

3) Communication is key

Make sure you and person you are contacting are aware of what both parties would like to get out of the experience.

 

4) Lab meetings are a must!

In order to get the most out of your time, try to find a lab that is has a clear chain of command and support system for undergraduates.

 

5) Find a research topic that you are passionate about

Trust me, it is a lot easier to find the motivation to send emails and sit through interviews if you are excited about what the lab is trying to accomplish.

 

6) Don’t be afraid to ask for help

A lot of students are afraid to admit that they don’t know what they are doing, don’t be! There are so many advisors and mentors on campus who would be happy to assist you in all stages of the lab-finding process. Additionally, many advisors may have information regarding labs who are actively looking for new labbies.

 

7) Don’t get discouraged!

I saved the most important tip for last. If you happen to have terrible luck in the lab finding process, don’t lose hope. It’s really easy to start thinking that research is not for you after a few unanswered emails, bad interviews, or rejections, but this is simply not true. Unless you have a lot of personal connections, finding a lab often turns into a numbers game, with the number of CVs you send out bringing you closer to finding the research opportunity of your dreams.

 

Finding a lab is difficult, but with the right tools, approach, and a little bit of luck, we can all find the relevant experience we need in our respective fields. Good luck collegiettes!

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