Getting Started in Research

Assess your availability

Research projects can vary in the time commitment they require. Before you begin searching for a project you need to understand how much time that you have to dedicate to a project. This availability should be clearly communicated with any professors you contact. Outline your schedule including classes, out of class commitments, and time which you feel could be dedicated to research.  Our introductory biology research lab courses allow you to gain research experience while you earn your introductory biology lab credit.  You also gain valuable lab skills in all of lab courses.

Explore current research

  • The most important step is to familiarize yourself with the research being conducted in various labs. This information will help you to determine which labs you’re interested in. For this department, see the different research areas, and the research descriptions on individual faculty's profiles.  Take notes on faculty that interest you. You can even view abstracts and papers from the lab in the publication section of each profile. You don’t need to understand it all, but it may help to focus your interests. (For suggestions outside our department, click here).
  • Attend the Department of Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Fair in February. Current undergraduate researchers will present posters of their research, and an abstract book will be available.
  • Attend university poster sessions such as the annual Science 201X Symposium in the fall and the Undergraduate Research Fair sponsored by the Honors College in the spring.

Prepare a resume/C.V. or a brief description of yourself and your scientific interests

Professors realize that students in their first or second years may not have the experience necessary to generate a meaningful resume/C.V. This should not discourage underclassmen. For such students, a statement including relevant personal information and scientific interest is sufficient. Additionally, some professors may request a copy of your transcript.

Contact the professor(s) whose research interests you

For most professors, the best way to contact them is by e-mail. Make sure that your e-mail clearly states who you are and why you’re interested in the lab. Additionally, you may request a meeting with the professor to talk about the possibility of working in the lab. Be sure to include contact information such as a telephone number and/or e-mail address. If you do not hear back from one particular lab, do not be discouraged as many professors keep busy schedules.
** Note that professors can get flooded with requests for laboratory positions making it difficult for them to respond. Be sure to plan accordingly. If you would like to start research in the fall semester, do not wait until the fall to contact professors; instead, start making contacts in the spring or summer for these positions. 

Prepare to meet with the professor

During your meeting with the professor you may want to find out some more information about the expectations for undergraduates in the lab. These expectations differ from lab to lab. Getting answers to your questions will ensure that the lab is in fact a good fit for you.

Questions to consider:

  • How many hours do undergraduates usually work?
  • Are hours flexible if I have other academic obligations?
  • Will I be able to work independently or will I be supervised?
  • Will I be able to work on a project?
  • Are there any papers I must read before starting?
  • What funding opportunities exist?

This list is not meant to be comprehensive. You will undoubtedly have your own unique questions. Remember that these first meetings should really be a discussion of your goals and the professor’s goals and expectations.

Additional information

This document contains additional information about getting started in research, including tips on how to find research labs.