Getting into a research lab at your College/University can seem like a very daunting task. When I was in college, I would always meet people who worked in faculty research labs on campus and I would wonder how they got the position in the first place. I never saw any flyers around campus or got any emails about when a faculty member had a research assistant position available, yet I would continuously meet people who were in research labs on campus.
When I got to college, I had no clue how to get involved with research as an undergrad or how to get my foot in the door. I quickly learned what to do and now I am here to share what I know on How to Get into a Research Lab at Your College/University.
Where to Start
When you realize that you are interested in doing research at your university, a good place to start is to have an idea of what area of research you like. If you are still early in your college career, it is completely fine if you are not 1000% sure about the research field you want to go into in the future, the first step is to just find an area that you like/might be interested in. Once you know what area you are interested in, you can now start finding faculty members that do research in those areas. The best way to go about that is to search up: University name + the department/research area you are interested in. The department websites usually have a directory of the faculty members, and you can browse through and read faculty bios, their research interests and their most recent papers. It is extremely important to read through their research interests thoroughly to make sure their work is something that is of interest to you.
The Interest Email
Once you find a couple of faculty members that you are interested in working with, you can then send out an email stating your interest in working with them. Some things you would want to include in your interest email are:
A bit about yourself (name, class standing/ when you plan on graduating, major, relevant coursework you have taken or are planning to take, research interests if any
Availability to work in the lab (also include when you can start)
Why you want to do research
Why their lab in particular
Attach your resume
Always remember that faculty members are extremely busy people, oftentimes they might take a couple of days to get back to you. If it’s been a week and I don’t hear anything from them, that's when I will send a follow up email.
Potential Responses to the Interest Email
It’s always exciting when a faculty member responds to your email and it is very important to respond to a faculty member as quickly as possible. They receive so many interest emails and it's important to respond promptly in case there is someone else that is interested in the same position, and to also let them know that you really want the position.
Sometimes a professor might respond to your email and let you know that there isn’t a project available for you to work on at the moment, but they might offer for you to help out with other things in the lab. If this is a lab that you are extremely interested in, it might be a good idea to help out in the lab at first and later on be transitioned onto a project. Even if the professor does not offer for you to help out in the lab until a position on a project is available, you can always offer your help. (with this, let the professor know how long you are willing to wait for a project to become available).
Another scenario is that a professor emails you back and wants to move forward with an interview with you. Remember to respond promptly and when setting up a time, make sure you have at least 30 minutes to spend at the interview to ask all of your questions and get a good understanding of how things work around the lab (we will be releasing an article on interviewing for a research lab position soon).
No matter what the response is, even if it is not the one you were hoping for, make sure you thank the faculty member for taking the time to respond to your email and consider you for the position. You always want to a keep good relationship with faculty members, because they might reach out to you if they have a position available in the future, or if another faculty member has an open position.
Note: If you are unsuccessful with faculty members at your university, try looking at other nearby universities or medical schools
Quick Do's and Don'ts of Getting Into a Research Lab
Be genuine in your email to the faculty member
Read about the lab and faculty member beforehand
Promptly respond to emails
Make sure you are communicating effectively
Email your resume
Randomly show up at their office
Pretend to be interested in a faculty member's work
Email all of the faculty members in the department/send a generic email to each faculty member
Write a long winded email, instead try attaching a document if there is more information you would like to include