Opportunities: Finding Research

Conducting research as an undergraduate is an amazing opportunity. Not only does it function as work experience, but it also serves as a chance to contribute new knowledge to a certain field and enhances undergraduate education by following the motto, "Learn by doing." However, because many undergraduates desire to participate in research, it can take time and multiple tries to find an opportunity.

The Aresty Research Center offers a limited number of spots for undergraduates who are not already involved in research to work on a research project under the mentorship of a faculty member. Yet many students find research on their own outside the Aresty Center's programs. Here are a few tips to be successful in finding a research opportunity outside of the Aresty program:

  1. Ask yourself why you are interested in doing research. Are you looking for an experience that will help you get into medical school? Are you interested in pursuing a Ph.D. and want to learn the scholarly research process? Are there specific skills you want to learn or explore? Answer these questions in two or three sentences.
  2. Ask yourself what types of big questions you want to answer and why. Are you interested in curing disease? Are you fascinated by specific types of puzzles or problems? Would you like to understand a complex process or system? Answer these questions in one or two sentences.
  3. Based on your answers above, create a list of potential faculty members whose research interests you. Then read about the research of these faculty members through their website and publications.
  4. Reach out to potential research mentors via email. Many faculty members are bombarded with emails from undergraduates looking for research spots. However, many undergraduates fail to realize that simply spamming a professor will most likely not end up receiving a research position. When writing the email message, introduce yourself briefly (name, major, year) and mention that you are interested in research. If you have had previous contact with the professor (such as through a course or seminar), include this. Next, tell the professor that you are interested in their research. Be specific. Include one or two questions about the research to show that you have dedicated time to learning about their work. Following this, politely ask whether they have time to meet with you to discuss their research. Professors are dedicated to their work and enjoy talking about their research, especially to people with a genuine interest. And finally, title your subject something along the lines of "Interest in Your Research." Do not simply title it "Research Position." Again, many undergraduates are emailing the same professors that you are interested in.
  5. If you do not receive a response to your email after one or two weeks, send a very polite follow up email that includes your original message. Professors are very busy and may have seen the email but forgotten to respond. If you receive no response to your second email, seek opportunities elsewhere.
  6. If your professor responds and wants to set up a time for a meeting, respond as soon as possible. List all the free time you are available to meet to ensure that setting up a meeting does not take more than one or two emails.
  7. Dress appropriately when meeting with the professor. If possible, dress in business casual attire. And of course, arrive a few minutes before the meeting. You want the professor to know that you are responsible. Bring paper and a writing utensil to the meeting to take notes on what the professor discusses regarding his or her research. Come prepared with questions that show you have given thought to the professor's work. If the professor does not mention having you conduct research under his or her mentorship, bring this up at the end of the meeting by saying something along the lines of "I was wondering if you have any available opportunities for me to conduct research under your mentorship." If he or she offers you a position, then congratulations! If he or she does not, then ask whether he or she can direct you to other faculty members whose research is similar and who may have an opening.
  8. After discussing research with the professor, send a thank you email a few hours after the meeting. Whether or not you will be working with him or her, you want to leave a positive impression.

If offered a position to conduct research, set up the details as soon as possible (when to start and times during the week). Most undergraduates conducting research receive research credit for their work through their respective major's department.