How to get a top research internship in high school

academic advice cold emails mentorship research
By Amy S.

Looking to do research and unsure about where to start? Follow these simple steps and you'll be well on your way to developing your interests, making connections at a university, and demonstrating your passions for a particular field of work.

1. Find research mentors to contact.

It is best to identify five to seven professors you'd like to work with. Associate or assistant professors are a particularly good place to start since they often have room in their labs. Start by going to the website of a local university or research institution and filter the professors based on areas of research you are interested in. Then, click on the researcher’s website and browse their current work. If you have interest or skills in coding, look at their open source code or Github site; if you want to learn basic science skills, look at their mechanisms, diagrams, and the hypothesis on the lab/researcher’s site.

2. Send a cold email.

Cold emails are part of the job when getting started with research. Follow this format for best results!

  • In your email subject line, be sure to mention the professor's field of work. You can even ask a question in the subject line of the email that will hook the Professor’s interest. Some examples include “The Actin Mechanisms of Parkinson's Disease” or “Macrophage Assembly as a Response to Cancer Metastasis.” Use the biographic/research description on the professor’s website to develop this headline.
  • In the first paragraph of the email, ask questions about their research or show interest in some way. For ideas, go on Pubmed and search the professor’s name. Alternatively, you can search on their CV or website to find recent publications done by the lab. Read through the abstract and ask counterfactual questions (the "what ifs”) or ask about topics you're drawn to. You should feel free to ask any questions you were thinking about, but try to avoid asking questions that you could easily find an answer to on Google. Find two separate papers, read over the abstract, and then formulate two questions per publication. An example question includes “__ is a really interesting finding I read in you paper. I was wondering if you increase the protein concentration, would you still see this result?”
  • In the second paragraph, introduce yourself. Talk about where you are from, your academic experiences in high school that are related to research (such as science and math courses; alternatively, history or government courses if you are looking to do humanities research). Then, talk about your career goals and how working in the lab can help fulfill them. For instance, if you are interested in medicine, you can talk about how doing research on a particular disease will help you fulfill your dreams of finding a treatment for that disorder. It can also be helpful to put in the email and phone number of a reference in case the researcher is interested in this. Be sure to include your own contact information as well (best emails/phone numbers to reach you).
  • Your third paragraph is your conclusion. Wrap up your email by summarizing why you are interested in that professor's research. You can end by asking them if they are available to discuss research opportunities in their lab. Don't forget to thank them for their time and consideration!

Hopefully this detailed and carefully curated email will help you connect with top researchers for a coveted research internship! It will take a few tries to find the right research mentor (or get a response) so keep emailing until you find the right mentor!

Amy graduated with a BS in Cognitive Science from Yale University, magna cum laude. She now attends Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. She hopes to develop new therapies and treatments for individuals with neurological disorders.

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