A Student's Guide to Getting Involved in Research
Once you've decided that you want to participate in research, start early and enter with a goal in mind.
You may be applying to pharmacy school, seeking to differentiate yourself from your peers, or planning a career as a scientific investigator. In any case, the experience and relationships gleaned from research opportunities are invaluable, as they’ll open doors to future endeavors.
Once you’ve decided that you want to participate in research, start early and enter with a goal in mind.
1. Start Early
There are several advantages to starting early in your undergraduate career. If you’re working on a long-term project in the same lab, you’ll gain in-depth knowledge of the lab, equipment, and research objectives.
If you choose to move to a different lab or research setting, starting early will allow you to gain different types of experience in the same amount of time. On either path, you’ll build valuable relationships with your research mentors and colleagues.
Starting early can also mean taking appropriate coursework before you can begin working in a lab. Depending on the lab’s needs and the position, you may be required to have training in laboratory equipment and techniques.
Some investigators are willing to train you in the lab itself. If you know what type of research you’d like to do, it may be a good idea to take laboratory courses or seminars that will familiarize you with that environment.
If you don’t start early, don’t fret. There are ample opportunities for more experienced students further along.
2. Enter with a Goal in Mind
Are you there to learn the equipment and techniques? Do you have an honors thesis to complete? Do your long-term plans involve being a researcher? These are all important questions to ponder, and it’s key to communicate your goals to your investigator.
If you plan on being in the same lab for the rest of your undergraduate career, it may be appropriate for you to take on long-term projects. If you plan to present at an upcoming conference, you might get a short-term assignment. If you’re looking for a tangible deliverable like a poster or journal publication, your investigator will know to involve you in pertinent work.
Whether you’re applying to pharmacy school or hoping to distinguish yourself from your peers, you have several options when it comes to research. For each option, however, it’s your responsibility to initiate conversation and express interest.
This is your first and most obvious resource. Students are encouraged to reach out to professors who teach courses that are most interesting to them.
If you wish to partake in research at a particular school within your university, then read through the profiles of the research taking place there. If your interest is in biology, then select a few investigators to contact from that department’s website.
Once you find topics and publications that interest you, reach out to the faculty members involved, express interest in their research, and ask if they’re accepting students in their lab. If labs are full, consider contacting professors in the springtime, when seniors are about to graduate.
If your university is affiliated with hospitals, institutions, and research centers, researchers conducting investigations there are likely going to welcome students seeking research opportunities.
Seek out colloquia, seminars, and networking events, as presenters and attendees are enthused to discuss and disseminate their research efforts. If a particular topic piques your interest, this setting is ideal for learning more and making connections.
Search for paid internships at nearby companies or apply to national programs for summer experiences.
In any case, it’s most important to make sure you know what your contacts’ research entails. Often, the research is the investigators’ mission and vocation. By asking to join their work, you’re asking them to entrust you with the activities of their life’s work. Being informed is the first step in showing that you’re committed to what you’re asking of them.
As a student researcher, you’ll spend considerable time and effort on these opportunities. Don’t get involved simply because you’re applying to pharmacy school or want to distinguish yourself. Do it because it inspires you.