Getting involved early in research projects as an undergraduate student brought me numerous benefits and taught me how to value research. It was not until my third year in college that I worked in a research position, and the whole process was eye-opening. If you are an undergraduate student wanting to discover research opportunities, read on to get insights into how you can prepare and what it entails.
Build Your Résumé
Before you connect with researchers, one of the most important things to do is build a one-page résumé. Although many undergraduate students do not have any prior research experience, by creating a clear and concise résumé, you can effectively showcase your abilities and stand out from other applicants. A basic résumé should include the following:
- Professional experience
- Volunteer or other service
- Programs and software
As a best practice when writing your résumé, implement bullet points to make it easier to read and use action verbs to enhance the content. You can seek help from your academic advisor or career services office to get feedback on your résumé, and to know where to make improvements. Building a résumé takes a village, so the earlier you start, the less burdensome it will be later. When your résumé is complete, remember to create a LinkedIn profile where you can add more detailed information.
Connect with Professors
After you create a well-organized résumé, the next step is to contact professors you would like to work with on research projects. Try first contacting professors whom you know first, as they tend to be easier to connect with.
Before contacting a professor, it is very important to read any published studies and get to know their research interests. You should proceed to contact professors whose work you have a genuine interest in helping with. Writing a concise email is often the best way to approach professors. Your email should include:
- A brief introduction
- A statement of how your research interests align with their work
- How you qualify for the position you are requesting
- How you will benefit from working under them
Offering to get involved in a project is an effective way to participate in research. Most of the time professors will have unpaid positions available for tasks such as data collection, data entry, and cleaning data.
Audit an Introductory Statistics or Research Course
Developing your research skills entails having knowledge in statistics, types of research, and why research is important. At the undergraduate level, introductory courses in these areas are extremely useful. If you cannot enroll in an additional class, another option is to audit a class that teaches you these skills.
You can also take advantage of free research workshops at your university held by different departments, such as the statistics department, research analytics groups, university information technology services, and more.
International Students Bring a Unique Perspective
Research takes place in diverse settings and one of the criteria researchers look for is the ability to communicate to a diverse group of people. As an international student, you have the unique experience of living in a foreign country, so why not make use of your background and knowledge?
Undergraduates who get involved in research projects reap many benefits, such as learning to formulate questions, testing hypotheses, conceptualizing a study, and developing leadership and teamwork skills. If you want a career in research, then working in a research lab is an effective strategy to boost your application and make important connections. From my perspective, working on a research project is similar to soul-searching—new questions are always born from my findings and it is a neverending quest.