Interested in scientific research but unsure how to get involved? It doesn’t have to be intimidating! All the researchers out there today studying topics like COVID19 and cancer once started where you are. If you are passionate about science, have an inquiring mind, and willingness to learn, research might be for you.
Reach out to scientists around you
The first and most important lesson is not to be intimidated! Scientists are just people with a passion for research, and just like most people, they love to talk about what they do. An easy way to decide if you might be interested in working in a field of research is to speak to the graduate students and professors in those labs. Most labs have a personal website or website associated with the university that covers the main research focus, the lab members, and contact information. From experience I know that people are more than happy to talk about their work when someone is genuinely interested in learning about it, so reach out and start a conversation in person or by email.
Compose an eye-catching email
When you email a scientist in a lab, it is always a good idea to include a few pieces of key information. Make sure to introduce yourself and explain what you are interested in. For example, are you interested in just chatting about their work, inquiring about a volunteer opportunity, or are you responding to a job opening? Secondly, if you have previous research experience, it is a good idea to touch on that, as well as include a copy of your CV. Thirdly, show the person you are emailing that you put some effort in. Make sure to tell them why their research stood out to you. For example, you can comment on how their work connects to a personal experience, a paper they recently published, or a project that caught your eye on their website. Lastly, make the subject line for your email is clear and concise. Scientists and professors receive a lot of emails, so sometimes emails will get overlooked. If you haven’t heard back in a couple of days, it is a good idea to send a follow-up email.
If you are interested in actually getting into the lab to do some work, it is a good idea to try a volunteer or paid internship. Most researchers, given they have the space and time, are willing to let undergrad students work in their labs. These opportunities aren’t usually advertised (especially the unpaid ones), so you will have to reach out and ask the lead researcher directly if this is an option. A lot of universities have awards or scholarships you can apply for to support your time in the lab, whether it is through a co-op placement or an internship. Make sure to check out all these options before you meet with the members of the lab so you can present them with some options. Also, don’t limit yourself to just academia; there are opportunities in pharmaceutical companies, government, and hospitals as well!
In the end, the best way to decide if research is for you is to get into a lab and get your hands dirty. This could be through volunteering, co-op opportunities, or research internships. Remember to reach out to the scientists around you to discuss options and see what is available! Good luck!
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