Steps to Research

SID VENKATARAMAN The University of Texas at Austin is one of the premier research universities in the United States. We often hear of undergraduates doing novel research in new and exciting fields, but many of us aren’t exactly sure how to go about finding a research stream of our own. To answer this question I interviewed Dr. Wilke, a professor teaching Biostatistics and doing research in computational biology, as well as Venkat Srinivasan, an undergraduate Electrical Engineering major, who has been working in two labs since his freshman year.  The article provides advice down that both had to share, and breaks down the process of getting a research position into a  step-by-step format:

How to Apply

Venkat began his research by sending emails in the middle of his spring semester. He emailed seven different professors expressing his interest in research, and asking them if he could meet with them in person to further discuss a research position. The professors he emailed were the ones who had posted on Eureka, a great resource where UT professors post asking for students to join their labs if interested. Out of the professors he contacted, several responded, two of which would eventually lead to his current research projects.

Dr. Wilke echoed what Venkat had to say. For him personally, he feels that any student can ask to do research in his lab at any time. He reminds students that there may not always be an opening in professors’ labs, and not to be discouraged.

How to Compose an Email

The email Venkat wrote was about medium length. The first 1-2 sentences introduced himself and his academic history. The next few  discussed his passion for the research that the professor was doing, and what he believed he could contribute as part of the professor’s lab. He finished with a short conclusion thanking the professor for his/her time.

When I asked Dr. Wilke how to apply, he said that he would suggest that the student send him an email explaining the student’s interest in the position, and emphasizing that he or she would like to meet with him in person to discuss a possible lab position.

Evaluation Process

The evaluation process that Dr. Wilke spoke of and Venkat went through was very similar. It is a casual, informal interview in which the professor asks a few questions about the student’s interest and previous lab experience. Dr. Wilke made it clear that for him, being able to convey a passion for the research topic was the most important factor, more so than grades and previous lab experience. The other important components are to be polite and affable.

In addition, the student should take a pen, some paper, and his or her CV when going to meet with the professor.

Be Prepared

in order to succeed in the informal interview, it is important to be prepared. Venkat stressed the importance of reading up on the research the professor is doing, and trying to think of ways you could be a part of it. Venkat, himself, read a couple of research articles written by the professor as well as the professor’s research blog.

Acceptance

If all goes well, the professor will contact you within a week or two asking you to come into the lab. If this does not happen, do not be discouraged. If you see other research projects that interest you feel free to pursue them. Not every research position one applies for results in a research spot.

Overall, this article is meant as a guide to getting a research position here on campus. One  of the big takeaways after talking to Venkat and Dr. Wilke were that students should feel comfortable sending cold emails to professors whose research interests them. In addition, interest and passion towards a subject or a field are very important when it comes to getting a research position.

Best of luck.

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