Research is a fantastic way for premedical students to learn about and explore their prospective careers, and stand out as future applicants. However, finding research opportunities can be a daunting task. I have outlined the process based on my experience, and I hope these steps help you find research that interests you.
Determine your research interests:
I recommend exploring various areas of research before committing to a project. If you are undifferentiated in your undergraduate career and have not yet picked a major, this could look like talking to academic advisors to concurrently find a major and a research topic you could see yourself working on. Reading up on departmental websites and looking at the research faculty in each department are pursuing can aid in this process. I found that the major I chose (Materials Science and Engineering) informed my research interests (biotechnology design), and vice versa.
Establish your level of commitment:
Do you have time to work in a research group during the academic year, or will this be a summer project/internship? Be clear about, and committed to, the amount of time you are willing to dedicate to research. Understanding your own capacity will be immensely helpful as you start talking with research mentors, who will need to trust you as a member of their teams. How much you get out of your research experience is a direct function of the amount of time and effort you are willing to put in; at the same time, you want to be realistic about your availability based on your other obligations and priorities.
Find principal investigators (PIs) who could be research mentors:
As you browse through academic websites and department pages, take note of faculty and staff doing research that interests you. If you are an undergraduate student, there may be programs set up to match students with mentors for summer projects, either on campus or off. Ask peers and friends who have done research, and see if they have any faculty members they recommend. LinkedIn and websites with internship listings can also be valuable resources for finding interesting projects.
Reach out, set up meetings and informational interviews:
Once you have a running list of PIs, you can start reaching out to potential mentors via email. Often PIs can be hard to reach due to the large volume of emails they receive daily -- don’t take this personally! Try following up politely, as well as reaching out to any students who currently work with this PI. This can help you get an appointment with the PI, or learn about the research through others involved on their projects.
In terms of formatting an email to a Pl, I recommend that you:
- Briefly introduce yourself and your background, as well as any previous research experience
- Explain why you’re interested in the PI’s research
- Ask if the PI would be available for a short conversation in person or over the phone
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