On just about every college tour they talk about their school’s “research opportunities” and all the different projects and labs their students are involved in. These research opportunities conjure up images of intense academics and overworked graduate students, and while research can sound intimidating, it’s much more accessible than it seems. Every year at many universities, more and more people are involved in research projects. For something so frequently talked about, how do students actually get involved in research projects? What does getting involved in research mean?
Working on research projects entails assisting various professors or departments on their specific research or departmental projects. Usually, sophomores and other upperclassmen are recruited to work on these projects by particular professors. Typically, people come across these opportunities through the connection of a professor; maybe you had an introductory psychology professor with who you connected and who wants you to join their research team. Alternatively, maybe a professor announces in class that they are looking for a couple of new research assistants and if students are interested they should apply. Some professors also post their listings for new research assistant jobs on various university-specific job sites or they send out notifications through their department listserv.
While it may seem like other people more often get invited to participate in research, there are some things you can do to help yourself secure a research position.
Declare Your Major
The first thing you can do is to declare your major as early as possible. Once you declare your major, you’ll connect with faculty and graduate students who share similar interests. Additionally, departmental faculty can connect you with other staff members who research-related topics. Bonding with faculty and staff who share similar research interests, can not only secure you a research assistant position but can also form lasting relationships with faculty mentors.
Sign up for Listserv
The second thing you can do is to make sure you have signed up for your major’s listserv. By doing this, you’ll be sent emails regularly from professors looking for students in your specific major to assist them in research projects. You’ll also be notified when professors from other universities and companies are looking for research assistants.
The third tactic you can use is to email specific professors looking for various research job openings. Most professors are often looking for additional help and want to encourage students who are interested in research. By merely emailing professors, you are signaling to them that you are someone who is hardworking and takes initiative, making them even more likely to hire you.
Connect with Nonprofits or STEM Companies
The fourth strategy is to pursue research through a company or nonprofit, rather than in a university professor’s lab. There are plenty of companies and organizations centered around research and discovery. If you can’t figure out a job at your university, these companies can provide amazing experiences that can help set your resume apart from others. Additionally, many nonprofits have broad and expansive research departments, which would be another rewarding place to obtain research experience.
The idea of research or working in a research lab can often intimidate and scare students off. Similarly, those students who want to get involved in research often don’t know where to start and can feel overwhelmed. It’s important to remember that working in research does not always mean rocket science; it means taking a deeper dive into topics and issues that matter most to you. Getting involved in research projects should ignite your curiosity and bring out the best in you as a student, not cause anxiety or stress. Particularly for those students who already know they want to pursue graduate degrees, making sure they have enough research experience for graduate school is a real source of anxiety. While yes, it’s good to think about the future and plan responsibly, it’s also okay not to do research every semester or not to get a research job right away.
Remember to pace yourself. You have four years of college and a lifetime of work ahead. Not everything will happen according to your timeline or you might get a late start on something, but that’s okay! There is no limit to the amount of research one can do; it’s just important to remember that it’s never too late to get involved.