April 21, 2011 8:48 PM
So you wanna join a research lab?
An accessory on level with the latest iphone and miniature dog, lab research is a must have for biology majors. Just the idea of getting published and wearing the coveted lab coat as an undergrad is making swarms of bio majors fight for such positions through URAP or SPUR. The constant reminder of today's slow economy has only escalated the rush to get these spots. Especially with the reverence of Berkeley biology professors it seems impressive to slap onto your resume “research assistant” next to the name of a professors who is considered an academic god and has published more papers than one can read. We are often bombarded with people telling us how research is a necessity for professional/grad school, summer internships and boy does it show. Tips on how to get positions in labs and what to expect have often been a focus of many people who come to office hours (yeah so just FYI those that come to OH get lots of insider info on classes, lab and stuff so if you are ever unsure or need advice on stuff come talk to us! =D). Now for the tips!
First of all I have never tried SPUR because when I learned about the program I had already started working in a lab. HOWEVER, if you are in CNR it is worth a shot since it seems like a pretty cool program. I did, however, use URAP my freshman year and ehhhhh well it didn’t turn out so good. Back in the day I was pretty confident and thought that because I had previous research experience in high school working in a private genetics lab I would be a shoe in for URAP. *slap in the face* I ended up getting rejected from all three positions I applied for and a lot of my other friends did as well. It seemed that the few who did get URAP positions had a pretty fat GPA. So if you are normal like me than I will give you some tips that I, along with my friends, have used that seem pretty effective in getting a lab position!
Second! You need to evaluate yourself to determine if this is something for you. Research is a biiiiiiiiiiig time commitment and shouldn’t be taken lightly. You might start off with meager intentions (pipette like a mindless monkey), but soon find yourself pressured into taking your own project or be given a lot more responsibility. I know some people who started off small and only after a few months are doing a lot more than expected to the point that they spend several hours a day and even weekends in lab. The good thing, well for me, is that research can be taken for units that count for major requirements (15 units total max)!!!
Third! Get that position! While people can get research positions throughout the year there are often certain time frames that usually get the best results. Coming from a lab myself I can attest to the fact that a lot of well qualified people get rejected off the fact that they apply at the wrong time. In my opinion the best time to apply for a position is a couple weeks before the semester is over for both spring and fall. By around this time professors have to fill in the holes as seniors are starting to graduate and leave the lab. Also being available to work over summer/winter break is a huge plus. Unlike undergrads most professors and grad students often work year around with no set vacation time so being available at these times will make you are more competitive candidate. So now that you have decided to take on research and it seems like the right time it’s now time to pick what you want to research. The best way to do this is go onto department websites and look through the faculty profiles, which often describes their research and what they are interested in.
Once you have found the perfect professor it is probably best to read up on some research papers that they have published to show that you have a true interest. This will also give you a good insight as to what kind of work you will be doing if you join their lab. For example if you REALLY dislike general chemistry with a passion than best not join a lab where all the papers they publish overkill the word TLC, NMR, etc. Next you just write this nice and sweet email basically telling them who you are (like major and year) and why you want to join their lab and why they should pick you. Be sure to be concise and hit main points because these people are busy (like get hundreds of emails a day). Then attach a resume and your transcript and then press send! If you feel uneasy about attaching your transcript than something effective is having a section of your resume where you list relevant science courses. So now that you have sent the email off you just wait for that beautiful email asking for an interview. Not every lab will have an opening so don’t be discouraged if you are rejected.
After being in a lab for over a year and a half, I can attest that it has been for the most part a pretty great experience. The perks of being in a lab have been far greater than I thought (ask me in OH if you want to know!) and has been key in narrowing down what I want to do after undergrad. So while this post is pretty long I have only scratched the surface of research. Heck I just told you about getting a position. If you want to get more specific info on research, what to expect, the awesome perks, how it counts for both of my bio majors or just about anything than come to OH or email =)
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