Finding research opportunities can be extremely difficult, especially as high school and college students. Many labs look for specific skills or relevant experience that you may not have if you are pursuing research for the first time. Here I present a list of tips for high school and college students to find their first research opportunities.
- Figure out your research interests. If you know what subjects or topics you are interested in, it will be easier to streamline your search process. For example, maybe you’re interested in immunology or cancer biology or microbiology. If you want to get more specific, examples include Alzheimers’, muscular dystrophy, etc. Knowing what you want helps you present a stronger case for why you are interested in a particular research lab.
- Send cold emails. LOTS of them. This has to be the number one proven method of finding research both in high school and college. Find faculty members at local colleges or in a specific department, read over their research interests and a few publications, and craft an email expressing interest in their research. You will probably have to send more than a handful of emails (even upwards of 100 emails) to PIs and professors, but you only need one response to get your foot in the door.
- Take advantage of networking and connections. Ask around your friend groups or student forums at your college to see if anyone knows professors or labs looking for student researchers. If you have a professor who you like a lot, go to office hours and learn about their research, building that relationship to potentially join their lab in the future. As high school students, apply for summer research programs and build networks through these opportunities. Look to science teachers for guidance and support.
- Don’t just join the first lab that gets back to you. If you get multiple responses back from PIs and professors, take the time to meet with all of them and determine if the lab is a good fit for you. If the goal is to get a meaningful research experience, make sure that the lab’s expectations match up with yours and that you’ll be doing tasks that benefit you and that are of interest to you. Everything comes down to fit.
- It is a continuous process. Don’t stop sending emails or looking for opportunities. You may join a lab and see that you are not enjoying the work after a trial period. Don’t spend time in a lab that isn’t providing you any benefit or academic stimulation. It’s okay to change your mind about a lab, but communicate your concerns openly with your PI and keep searching for the lab that is right for you. I promise you will find it.
- Start early. Do not delay the process of looking for research. Whether you’re in high school or college, start sending emails your first year, look for summer opportunities, and ensure that you can have a lasting experience in whatever lab you end up in.
If you follow these tips, you are sure to increase your chances of joining your first lab.