Dry goods: As an undergraduate, how can I gain research experience that is conducive to postgraduate applications?

Research experience is considered one of the most important factors for gaining admission into graduate school or securing desirable employment positions.

Dry goods: As an undergraduate, how can I gain research experience that is conducive to postgraduate applications?

Research experience is considered one of the most important factors for gaining admission into graduate school or securing desirable employment positions. For more information on the importance of research in graduate admissions, read: 3 things you must know before applying for the North American PhD program. However, finding such experience is largely dependent on one’s own initiative, which can be daunting. Read on to learn how to make the right connections and obtain beneficial research experience.

  1. Find professors whose work interests you - even if they are outside your department - and contact them during their office hours. Read some of their work ahead of time so you can speak intelligently on it. Ask if they have any research opportunities. Even if the professor doesn’t have any openings, they might be able to connect you with someone who does or provide you with valuable advice. You can email professors as well, but they are more likely to respond favorably to face-to-face meetings because they are busy. If the professor you would like to work with does not attend your institution and email is your best means of communication, be persistent if they don’t respond initially.
  2. Search professors’ websites to find postdocs, graduate students, lab techs, and other lower-level faculty the professor works with. They will be much easier to get a hold of via email; send them a message and ask about research opportunities.
  3. Take upper-division or graduate-level courses. Do well in them to show your academic abilities. At the end of the course, ask the professor if they have or know of any open research opportunities.
  4. Search for assistant professors whose work interests you. Being new, they might be looking to grow their labs and in more need of student help.
  5. Attend guest lectures by professors that interest you. At the conclusion of the talk, approach them and ask if they have or know of any open research opportunities.
  6. Have friends who are currently working as a researcher introduce you to professors, graduate students, or other research assistants. A good reference can really help undergraduates obtain research experience.