FAQs from Undergrads for Undergrads answered by Undergrads

How do I find a Research Position in a Lab if I'm not in UROP?

1) Start by talking with friends, professors, and by research labs via the internet. Find labs that interest you and get ready to email the professor who runs the lab.

2) Include a detailed email and attach your resume.

You can think of the email that you send to your professor as the cover letter (introduction/statement of intent) and the resume as your “application” or the details about you that you want them to know.

In the email, I think it was important to demonstrate specific interest in what the lab is doing.  I also think professionalism is important in an email.  For the labs that interviewed me, I think that they liked the most was the curiosity that I demonstrated about their research.  I think what they also liked was that I included times and dates when I would available for an interview (showed that I am organized and have good time management skills), which also made it easier for them to schedule an interview with me.

3) Don’t worry if you have never worked in a lab  before.

For the lab that I am currently in, I did not have any research experience when I first applied.  It depends on the professor, but I think most professors don’t expect undergrads to come into their lab with a lot of formal research experience.  In your interview, they might ask you about previous experience.  What I did then was to highlight a few lab courses that I took in high school and the interest that I had for research during my interview. 

4) Again, express an interest in that specific lab’s research.

This is very important because an interest in their project is what they are interested in.  Because a lot of skills are specific to the lab that you work in, professors typically care more about your long term interest in the project rather than what you are able to do right away in the lab. 

5) Ask to meet to discuss the project.

Typically it is good in the email to ask them to meet and discuss the project and your involvement rather than to ask for a position in their lab.  It realistically means the same thing (you’re asking for a position because you’re interested) but focusing on the project will typically attract the professor more to interview you.

6) What if you’re rejected?

Keep in mind also that sometimes there are sometimes practical reasons why a lab can’t take an undergraduate.  This normally just has to do with lab bench room or room for experiments.  Sometimes funding (if you want to be paid) and other practical issues arise that prevent labs from interviewing candidates who they actually believe to be incredibly qualified (happened in my lab).  So don’t be afraid to send out a lot of emails!