Confession: I entered undergrad with ZERO interest in research. 

Zip. Zilch. Absolutely none. 

Yes, I was a pre-med and there was definitely an unspoken "rule" about having research on your medical school application. But, I was also fresh out of high school and the only vision I had of research fell somewhere between fruit flies, rats, and cleaning pipettes, so I was NOT having it! 

Luckily (in retrospect), I was in a program called the Biology Scholars Program during undergrad and one of the requirements to maintain my membership was at least one semester of research by the end of sophomore year. I agonized and eye-rolled about it, but sure enough, the second semester of sophomore year rolled around and it was crunch time! 

When I started looking into opportunities, I only knew one thing: I just did not see myself doing bench work. After getting a better idea of what it entailed, there still wasn't much that excited me about it. Looking back, I kind of wish that I gave it a real chance (mostly because it would be great to  have those skills now!), but that's just where I was at that point. 

To make a long story short, I ended up getting involved in qualitative research and I LOVED it so much that I stuck with it until the end of my senior year, which was well beyond my one semester requirement! I worked on a project that examined the differences in breastfeeding initiation and continuation between normal weight and obese women. I could go on an on about the topic (DM or email if you're interested int talking more about it!), but hey, we're here to help YOU secure an awesome research experience. 

Getting a research position at an undergraduate institution is usually not like a straightforward job application. Whether you're looking for something for the summer or the school year, I hope that these tips help you navigate the process!

Evaluate Your Interests: Research takes time and lots of it! Instead of choosing something that you think would look good on an application, you should choose something that you're interested in exploring and passionate about! You definitely don't want to spend hours and hours agonizing over something you don't care about. Get involved in a project that sparks your curiosity and feeds your love for learning! 
Compile a List of Contacts: Now it's time to identify potential mentors. As an undergrad, you'll likely start by becoming a research assistant on an existing project. If you work at it and develop a good relationship with your mentor, they may give you creative license to come up with your own project in the future! 

Where do you even begin!? Well, now that you've already evaluated your interests, you should visit your college's department websites that align with them. For example, are you interested in prosthetic valves? Visit the bioengineering department site. Interested in learning more about the gut microbiome? Visit the nutrition department site. On each of these sites, there should be a page that lists the faculty members in the department. 

Scan this page and write down the names of people you'd be interested in working with. It's definitely a bonus if you have a connection to this person because you took a class with them or attended one of their talks. It's okay if you don't though! I didn't have a personal connection with any of the people I ultimately reached out to. 

Do Your Due Diligence: Now, it's time to narrow it down. When you finally reach out, you want to be able to convey your genuine interest in the faculty members' work! In order to do that, you should be familiar with their research interests and previous work. 

Start at their faculty page! Your college will usually publish a brief bio about them and may even summarize their research interests. You should also head over to PubMed and search their name to read a few of their most recent publications. 

This process is useful for two reasons. 1) it will help you get a better idea of faculty members' research interests within the department you're looking in and whether they are a good match for you. 2) It will show them that you've done your due diligence and you are truly interested in their work when you email them! 

Reach Out: Now it's time to send that email! The goal of this email is to get an in person meeting to further discuss the possibility of working with them. It could go something like this:

SUBJECT: Undergraduate Research Interest


Dear _____,

My name is _____ and I am a [freshman, sophomore, junior, etc] studying [major] at [college]. I am writing to express my interest in your research and the possibility of becoming a member of your team. [How you found out about faculty and/or lab]. I'm very interested in [topic] and I am eager to learn more about it. [Mention specific paper and what you thought about it]. 

[Previous experience]. [Your goals/Why do you want to research?]. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss [topic] and the possibility of working with you in the future. I have attached my resume to this email. Thank you for your time and consideration!


[Full Name]

This is is just a simple example and it is by no means the perfect and/or only format you should use! Make it your own :) 

Wait/Follow Up: These people are very busy! Don't blow up their inbox if they don't respond in 24 hours. Give it a week or two, then politely follow up. Hopefully, they'll respond sooner rather than later with some possible meeting times! However, you shouldn't be discouraged if you don't end up getting a response from someone. There are number of things could be going on (one of the professors I emailed was on a sabbatical and I got a response 6 months later! lol), just keep trying! 

Once you get a meeting, the hard part is over! Be prepared to discuss all of the things you've already looked into (their interests and previous research), a little bit about you, and how much time you would be able to commit while balancing your other school responsibilites. Even if you make it this far and you decide it is not a good fit, that's okay! You should only make the commitment when you're comfortable with your research mentor's expectations and ready to put in the necessary time! 

Even though I originally looked at it as a "checkbox," I am BEYOND grateful that I ended up getting involved in research as an undergrad. Learning to critically appraise scientific literature and getting familiar with the mechanics of writing papers are invaluable skills that I continue to use as I pursue other work in medical school. I highly recommend that you at least give it a try! After all, the practice of medicine is informed by the evidence that is generated from research. Happy Learning :)