Finding undergraduate research opportunities in preparation for graduate school
Research experiences are highly useful for undergraduate students who are aspiring to attend graduate school in the future, in addition to preparation for different career pathways. Despite that, not all bachelor programmes offer research opportunities.
Research equips students with an arsenal of skills and benefits, including critical thinking skills and oral and written communication skills, learning to communicate one’s ideas clearly to people with different levels of knowledge, and building resilience despite facing obstacles.
These are skills that are also highly valued in the workplace, making it useful for undergraduates to equip themselves with some research skills in preparation for graduate school and the workforce.
Here are some guidelines on how undergraduate students can find research opportunities:
Check out your university’s research section
Does your university have an undergraduate research section on its website? You’ll likely get all the information you need here, including research opportunities, guidelines for applying, how to find supervisors and mentors, and the names of faculty members you can reach out to for more information.
Speak with students already engaged in research
One of the best ways to find and engage in research is to speak with students who are currently engaged in it. Learn about the processes they went through, the professors or mentors they like and if there are any student organisations that could support you.
Identify your areas of interest before applying
Don’t start shooting off emails to faculty members for research opportunities without first identifying your areas of interests and what you wish to do. It’s worth highlighting that research also incorporates skills from different disciplines, so you don’t have to limit yourself to research within your major.
Contact your Director of Undergraduate Studies
Consider contacting the director of undergraduate studies in the department of your major as he or she will likely know which faculty are undertaking research in a specific area. It’s worth noting that you can also try exploring research opportunities outside your department for relevant research experiences.
Identify several faculty members to contact
Have you checked out the faculty and department webpages for their research details?
Once you’ve identified a few faculty members whose research interests you, you’ll want to ensure that you tailor your emails to faculty mentors for the right research opportunity, and why you wish to work with that faculty member, for a better outcome.
Don’t forget to follow-up if you haven’t heard from them.
Don’t get frustrated if things don’t go your way
If you’re unsuccessful in finding a research position, don’t give up just yet. Speak with your student advisor for advice and guidance — they’ll likely know how to guide you on how to move on from where you are.
There are many other options to gain research experience, notes John C. Norcross of the American Psychological Association. This includes completing an honours thesis, inquiring about doing research on a voluntary basis with a faculty member on their research project; or inquiring about research opportunities outside your university, either on a voluntary basis or via an internship; to name a few.
At the end of the day, research experience at the undergraduate level is highly useful for those who plan to attend graduate school. Opportunities may not always be bountiful, which means students will have to step out of their comfort zone, be resourceful and speak with different people and to be persistent in finding ways to get a research opportunity.
Research opportunities may not always match students’ expectations, so it’s important to be flexible and open-minded when pursuing one.