Five Tips for Getting Your Foot in the Undergraduate Research Door
By: Wendy Li
You’ve probably heard the words “research” or “lab” thrown around here and there. But what exactly is undergraduate research, what does it entail, and how does one get involved? Here at the University of Florida, we have a long tradition of discovery through the extensive research opportunities housed in all of our Colleges and Institutes. A very common misconception is that research is just for STEM/pre-med/engineering students. The truth is that anyone from any major with any interest can find a research opportunity at UF. Art and design, religion, history, finance, math, education… you name it, we have it.
Here are five tips to get your foot in the Undergraduate Research door:
1. Research your research.
Reflect on your own interests and browse the internet for the types of research going on at the University of Florida. There are literally hundreds of opportunities in all disciplines and colleges. The first step is to go to the department website and read about the various research that faculty members are conducting. Oftentimes, there will even be a whole page specifically dedicated to research.
2. Find research you are passionate about.
I cannot emphasize this one enough! Find research that genuinely interests you and makes you EXCITED to commit your precious time. After you begin, give yourself a two-week trial period to determine if this experience suits your interests and ambitions.
3. Make a list of 7-10 faculty members whose research excites you.
Why so many? Keep in mind that many faculty members have full-time research and/or teaching positions with the school, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back from some of them. Some of them may be on the hunt for undergraduate researchers, and some may not have space or time. Be patient, and keep your options open.
4. Draft specific and articulate emails.
If you want to stand out, cater your email to that faculty member. You do not want to send a vague and generic email. Show them that you’ve investigated their publications, and clearly articulate why you are interested in their research specifically. After all, there are literally hundreds of other research opportunities you could have chosen. Do not explicitly ask for a position; the goal of the email is a meeting with the faculty member or professor.
5. You’ve reached the interview stage!
Congratulations! A faculty member emailed you back and would like to meet with you to discuss opportunities. Think of the interview as more of a meeting or a conversation. The purpose of the interview is for you to decide if this is the right research opportunity for your goals and interests. Prepare a list of questions to ask. Consider how flexible scheduling is, the lab environment, and the tasks you will be assigned as a new undergraduate researcher. Dress business casually; a t-shirt and jeans might be too casual, but no need to show up in a full suit either. Bring your resume and your semester schedule.
I’d like to leave you with some parting tips. Think of your research experience as more than just a resume builder. Yes, undergraduate research looks stellar on your resume, but if you’re looking solely for a resume boost, research may not be for you. Research is a time and mental commitment, so make sure you are truly passionate about what you are doing. Research has impacted my own academic and personal career journey in ways I could not have anticipated. The transferrable skills I gained from my research experience manifest in my everyday life: from my study skills, to personal skills, to a greater understanding of my career path, research has helped me to approach problems in an innovative way.
Lastly, if you would like some more help with getting started, visit the Center for Undergraduate Research (CUR) website at cur.aa.ufl.edu or drop by a virtual advising session with a CUR peer advisor. Best of luck as you embark on your undergraduate research career!