My Guide to Finding Research Opportunities as an Undergrad

Laboratory & Research Advice

My Guide to Finding Research Opportunities as an Undergrad

When I first came to Stanford, I had very little prior research experience. If you’re in a similar situation and want to start getting involved with research at your school, here are a couple ways to find great opportunities:

  • Talk to the professors that teach your classes. I've found that the best way to approach your professors is by showing up to their office hours, a time that they have already set aside to help students. Another option is to email them explaining your interest in research. In my experience, professors are usually very open to helping students find research opportunities and are very knowledgeable of the different available positions in their academic department.
  • Find faculty members outside of your classes that share your research interests. It is perfectly fine to get in touch with professors who don’t teach your classes. When I was in the process of finding a research position, I went through the Stanford medical faculty website and found faculty members that were conducting interesting research projects. I then emailed each of these researchers asking to set up a meeting to talk about possibly getting involved with their projects. It may seem intimidating to approach faculty members that you don't even know, but it really is not as bad as it seems. Even if these faculty members aren't able to offer you a position, they can still point you in the direction of other researchers that are conducting similar projects.
  • Talk to upperclassmen. I would recommend speaking to upperclassmen that are involved in the type of research you are interested in. Usually, they are some of the first people to find out about research openings in the lab they work in and they may also know of openings in the other labs in their building. Moreover, upperclassmen have already gone through this process and may be able to advise you on which professors to approach and ask about research opportunities.
  • Keep up to date with undergraduate research resources. At Stanford, there is a pre-medical student newsletter that always lists numerous research opportunities. If there are similar resources at your school, I would recommend keeping up to date with them to find opportunities that you would not have encountered otherwise through simply approaching professors or talking to upperclassmen.

I also want to share two important lessons that I feel all students looking for research opportunities should know:

  • Perseverance is key. Chances are, you're not going to get accepted into the first lab that you apply to. You might not get into the second, third, fourth, or tenth lab either. There’s some luck involved in this process and you have to remember not to get discouraged. I, myself, remember sending out quite a few emails and meeting with numerous professors before I found a research position. Just keep at it and all of your hard work will pay off in the end.
  • Don’t immediately turn down research positions that you don’t have a strong interest in. If you have no prior research experience, sometimes it might be a good idea to accept a research position just so that you can learn the basic lab techniques that are used in research. Just because a project does not greatly interest you does not mean that you cannot learn important skills from working on that project. Once you have the basic techniques down, you will be more competitive when applying for research positions and you can then be more selective with the positions you accept. Everyone has to start somewhere and, sometimes, you have to start small to get where you want to be in the future.