Raimes

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I guess we just have to keep looking ahead..


Anyways.. I was wondering how some of you went about to get some research experience, I am in a non-thesis masters program (worst choice ever, but again to get a thesis program you have to have a good GPA and GRE), so therefor I do not get to do research, I honestly miss it, and am very interested in research. I've asked one professor and he said no because he had to let people go already.

So I guess what I am trying to ask is how the heck am I supposed to ask for a volunteer position in a research lab and would they actually do this? I don't want money, I don't want credits, I just want to be able to go there and expand my professional portfolio.
 

bbeventer

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When I wanted a research position in a lab I asked several students that I knew who had research positions and I kept receiving the very frustrating answer of "just go to each professor and ask if they need anyone." I didn't like this answer because I wanted something with more structure to it, but honestly that is how I eventually got my research position!

My current boss was my professor at the time and he would go off about his work with parasites, and I knew I was interested in parasites so one day after class I just asked him if he had an opening in his lab. I told him I just wanted research experience that I could work voluntarily etc. He set up an "interview" and the rest is history. He happened to have a grant that allowed for a student work position so I could get paid, and this summer I received an assistantship, and I love it!

So best thing is to just ask! Do some research on each of the professors, make a list of the professors that you find have the most interesting research and go from their. It is totally fine to ask for a volunteer position. We currently have a volunteer in our lab (since grant money is being used by another student). When you start working in a lab you never know when that professor may acquire a grant that may allow them to pay you.

So I will give you the very frustrating advice I go... just go ask around! Be up front with the professors about your needs. Times are tough and grant money is low, but having an extra set of hands (especially free) in a lab is always beneficial!

Oh, some other advice... talk to students working in the labs you are interested in as well. Some professors can be the most unpleasant to work for, or you don't get much out of the experience. Best of Luck!!!
 
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LoveMyDobies

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I guess we just have to keep looking ahead..


Anyways.. I was wondering how some of you went about to get some research experience, I am in a non-thesis masters program (worst choice ever, but again to get a thesis program you have to have a good GPA and GRE), so therefor I do not get to do research, I honestly miss it, and am very interested in research. I've asked one professor and he said no because he had to let people go already.

So I guess what I am trying to ask is how the heck am I supposed to ask for a volunteer position in a research lab and would they actually do this? I don't want money, I don't want credits, I just want to be able to go there and expand my professional portfolio.


I'm in a non-thesis MS program as well. I don't know about your program, but for mine I'm actually required to write a big paper/thesis and defend it in front of my advisory committee (but I don't have to turn it in to the university).. anyway to find something to write about I went around to the med school and local hospitals for positions in research labs.. and everyone was pretty receptive to the fact that 1. I'm free and 2. I have a good background in biology. So basically I went to these labs telling them I wanted to do work in their labs so I would have something to write my (non-thesis) thesis on. If that makes any sense.
 

iheartmycorgi

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I would try visiting the department's website that you are interested in and then just go through each professor and email them, explaining that you are looking for a directed research opportunity or even just volunteering in their lab. Try writing a general email and then just personalize it for each professor you are interested in. Make sure you know their research specialties, so you can express interest in specifically what they are doing. The worst that happens is that they don't respond or that their lab is filled. Don't give up!
 

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A friend of mine told me that her prof was looking for a research student, so I applied. I have never had this prof as an instructor but I had met him at a conference. The prof told me that his wife had also received a grant and was looking for a student, so I spoke to her. I applied for both positions. Both asked me why I didn't have any research experience and I admitted that I never hear about any of these jobs. The way to go about it at my university is to take an interest in what a prof is doing and ask if they have a position available. I hate doing it sometimes... it totally makes me feel like a suck up. But if that's what I have to do to get research experience, then that's what I have to do.

I go to a small university though. We don't have huge research labs or anything like that. If the prof manages to land a grant, he or she will hire a student or two for a couple of months. Majority of them don't advertise. I just happened to have a friend who cared enough about me to pass along the information. The next day I was in his office, resume in hand, and he had the most puzzled look on his face... hehe.
 

LMMS

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Hey Raimes,

Are you at a 'big' institution or a 'small' one? I ask because my advice for is different for each...

If you're at a big one, (I consider 'big' one with several PhD program departments, a med school, etc...) check out department home pages and see who's doing something that's interesting to you. If you find something, email either the PI or the lab manager if one is listed. Several labs will take volunteers - especially if they're currently low on funding and need willing hands.

Now, if you're at a small one (ie - no PhD programs), go see the department administrator and find out from him/her if there's anybody looking for a willing set of hands for the coming semester. These folks usually have the inside scoop!

Alternatively, you can speak with one of your current instructors and see if they know if any of their colleagues are looking for a 'body'.

Finally, if you know anyone currently doing a long term thesis project you can always approach them. I had two other students help me collect data when I wrote my thesis... I got some help and didn't have to life completely in the lab and they got the opportunity to see what they thought about research. It was a win/win! :)

Good luck!! I'm sure you'll find something!! :luck:
 

Bigcatlover

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I don't know how it works at your university, but at the university of Iowa all the available positions are posted on a sort of JobNet thing, that's how I found my job when I started. Although that was just a washing glassware type of position they also post openings for RAs and stuff. We also have a lot of honors students and rotating graduate students coming through the lab. I know that the PI of the lab we share space with will pretty much take any free help he can get, even if somewhat unreliable. So I really just think it depends on the professor. And, like previously stated, probably the best way is just to ask around
 
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Raimes

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I'm at NC State, and completing my masters. Professors are completely out of funding so they are not taking anymore funded students, (and seem super cranky about this)...

Although good news my mentor/advisor said he would love to have me in the lab so we'll see, hopefully I will get to be in there soon.
 
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Just adding my voice to the others to say I agree with them! I've been in research labs for about 7 years :)eek:) now, and we have tons of undergrads in the lab.

It's totally acceptable to email professors out of the blue. The worst you get is a non-response (in which case they won't even remember your name), and professors get these emails all the time.

Things I look for in emails from undergrads interested in the lab:
**why they are specifically interested in our research
**what relevant experience they have (if any, needn't have any)
**that they're happy to start out as a volunteer.
**If you have a resume handy, I'd attach it, as it indicates a certain level of professionalism/maturity (but don't bother making one if you don't have one already - the majority won't come with one).

I would not, however, mention that you're looking to get experience for a professional school application - that's often a red flag to us that the person is a 'flitter' who won't necessarily stick around, or someone who's only interested in us for the resume building (ie not fully invested).

If you have a particularly large amount of time per week available, you could also mention that.
 
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Raimes

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I would not, however, mention that you're looking to get experience for a professional school application - that's often a red flag to us that the person is a 'flitter' who won't necessarily stick around, or someone who's only interested in us for the resume building (ie not fully invested).

If you have a particularly large amount of time per week available, you could also mention that.
My fear exactly when my fiance tells me to put that in there, I don't like to, because you are right, they wont stick around.
 

sumstorm

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My fear exactly when my fiance tells me to put that in there, I don't like to, because you are right, they wont stick around.
Hmmm...mixed feelings on this. Find research that you are really interested and enthusiastic about, and pursue that. There may be several options. If you have skills coming in, many folks will forgive a short timer in order to use those skills (I find this very true in ecology, cons bio, and ethology, but I have also seen it in production ag research, and endocrine research.) Also, if you know any researchers that value mentoring or 'inspiring the next generation' they tend to appreciate hearing how you are going to take the skills you are sharing and learning and moving them to a different field or a different concept.

If there is someone you want to work with, read what they have written. It gives you a lot more information, and it may inspire some ideas that you can share with the professor. I landed a couple of amazing research oppurtunities because I read what they had worked on, found some component that needed to be ferreted out, and was excited about that option. In some cases, all I needed from the professors was the data (in one case 7.5 feet of binders of data that were not electronic yet) and I could make them happy (answer a piece of the puzzle), build my experience, competence, and reputation, and create a good association. Not all research costs, thank goodness.
 

laitmanvet

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I wouldn't worry too much about telling people you want to go to vet school. But if you are going to say so, I'd also make it really clear that you are interested in research. Talk about previous experiences, what you liked/didn't like, something you want to improve on, what you find interesting about that particular research, etc.

I interviewed a pre-med not too long ago for a work-study position and during the whole 20 min conversation with her every one of her responses ended with "well I want to go to med school." That was her reasoning for everything behind wanting to work in a lab. We didn't hire her. We did however hire another girl who is also a pre-med. While talking with her she simply said she had X research experience before, she liked it, and she wanted more. She told us she wanted to go to med school but that wasn't her main reason for wanting to work with us.
 
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I'm in a thesis-based M.S. program (actually I just filed my thesis, so I guess I'm no longer in the program!) and can chime in here a bit as I'll be taking over laboratory management duties until I (hopefully) leave for vet school next summer and will be responsible for recruiting/interviewing new undergraduate lab members. I've also been a part of the decision-making process in bringing in new undergrads to work on the project that turned into my thesis.

Getting into research is not too difficult, though it depends on many factors. People have mentioned already in this thread that it depends on the size of your university. If you're at a very large research based university (I'm at UCLA -- so that's all I can really speak for), spend some time browsing through laboratories from the various department websites. There are a TON of departments and even more labs. There WILL be a spot open for you somewhere.

However, you must make a decision about what you want to do. If you have very specific research interests, that likely drastically cuts down on the possible labs. If you just want any kind of experience, you'll have a much better chance. Another good idea is to find the larger labs at your school and try there first because, one, they'll have a lot of work they need help with and, two, have plenty of funding for their projects. A quick way to tell how big a lab is if they don't have lab members listed on their website is to check their list of publications. Generally larger labs will have a lot of recent publications.

In my experience, directly contacting the PI for the lab by email is the best way to get in touch with them. The worst they'll do is not reply to you, which can happen, depending on how busy they are. Showing up in their lab or office unannounced and asking to join their lab will catch them off guard and not be the best introduction. When you contact them, stress that you'd like to meet with them to talk about joining their lab on a volunteer basis. Don't give them your whole life's story in your initial contact (PM me if you'd like to talk about this in more depth). If you get a chance to meet with them, then you can, in person, tell them why you're interested in their research and see if you'd be a good fit.

Lastly, if you're volunteering, PIs will generally view you as free labor and thus be willing to let you join their lab. In my experience, immediately mentioning that you're interested in professional school is not a great idea, though I think this is wholly dependent on how the PI views the matter. If you have any applicable research skills, be sure to play those up. If not, don't try to pretend that you do.

Best of luck! I'm know it can be intimidating, but if you're motivated to get in somewhere, I'm sure you'll be fine.
 

Trilt

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Just adding my voice to the others to say I agree with them! I've been in research labs for about 7 years :)eek:) now, and we have tons of undergrads in the lab.

It's totally acceptable to email professors out of the blue. The worst you get is a non-response (in which case they won't even remember your name), and professors get these emails all the time.

Things I look for in emails from undergrads interested in the lab:
**why they are specifically interested in our research
**what relevant experience they have (if any, needn't have any)
**that they're happy to start out as a volunteer.
**If you have a resume handy, I'd attach it, as it indicates a certain level of professionalism/maturity (but don't bother making one if you don't have one already - the majority won't come with one).

I would not, however, mention that you're looking to get experience for a professional school application - that's often a red flag to us that the person is a 'flitter' who won't necessarily stick around, or someone who's only interested in us for the resume building (ie not fully invested).

If you have a particularly large amount of time per week available, you could also mention that.
Sent an email with all these points to a lab I've been eyeing for a while... lets see how that turns out. :xf:
 
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Raimes

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Just so everyone knows, I'm not an undergrad.. I just have lousy research hours (about 100). Professors have been pretty rude to me because they think I want them to take me into the thesis program (because I am in non-thesis).
 

sumstorm

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Just so everyone knows, I'm not an undergrad.. I just have lousy research hours (about 100). Professors have been pretty rude to me because they think I want them to take me into the thesis program (because I am in non-thesis).
Be very clear about this, and this may be a point in time where mentioned a progression to professional school might be useful; IE 'I am very interested in the research your lab is doing on X and I would like to be involved. I chose a non-thesis program because it best served my purpose in pursueing veterinary medicine, so I am not seeking to move to a thesis-based program. Are there any projects you could use some additional man power on? Or any projects that haven't been addressed that could be examined by an additional person in the lab?'

In my experience, folks who find research they are really interested in carry themselves differently when talking to potential PI's. The enthusiasm shines through. And it is much easier to find a place in a project for someone that is passionate (and much harder to turn them down.) Especially compared to the person who just wants experience. Also, get to know people IN the labs. That PI might just mention to one of their students 'gee, I had a young person come in wanting to learn about our lab and participate in our research, but I have no idea what to do with her, and we don't relaly have anything...' and if you are friends with the students in that lab may go 'was that X? She's very excited that you might find something for her, but we could always use someone doing Y in the meantime.'

And again, if you have read their research, you might spot something that you can walk in and do at low or no cost. My first pub was all based off of data. I went out and helped with the data collection a few times, but my actual project was completly based on data that was already collected, but it provided a tool (a growth curve for a species of turtle that is being used as a source-point pollution indicator) the research lab could use, little investment in time for them, some free labor for them, and I dragged a couple of professors from other fields into the mix (this was calculus heavy work.) My current research is minimal costs (couple hundred) but draws on skills I brought to the table (behavior) but is introducing me intensively to ophthalmology, and I have a great excuse for calling experts in the filed (networking) because of the research. The lab gets an answer it needs that it didn't have the skills within the lab to obtain and good will/connection with other labs, I get skills and networking and pub. Try to find win-win-win solutions.
 
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Raimes

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Thanks sumstorm! That's great advice.. I definitely am going to put that into motion soon. Also will have to go over research information..

I was looking over the vet school, and a friend of mine just got a position with equine ophthalmology. :) I was also looking over there..
 

LMMS

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Be very clear about this, and this may be a point in time where mentioned a progression to professional school might be useful; IE 'I am very interested in the research your lab is doing on X and I would like to be involved. I chose a non-thesis program because it best served my purpose in pursueing veterinary medicine, so I am not seeking to move to a thesis-based program. Are there any projects you could use some additional man power on? Or any projects that haven't been addressed that could be examined by an additional person in the lab?'
:thumbup: Very well put, sunstorm!! This is a perfect way to find out if there's an 'in'. And Raimes, just so you're aware, the folks who helped me out during my thesis were both graduate students on a non-thesis track. This is not to put down undergrads, however, because I've had some really kick ass undergrad research assistants over the years and don't know what I would have done without them!!

Anyway, the grad students who helped me were fantastic because they were familiar with the subject matter from coursework and needed very little training (fabulous given the time constraint I was under). Additionally, they approached both me and my major professor showing interest in my project. This told me that they already had an understanding of what they were getting into - very helpful!! So there just very well may be somebody out there who could use a little help from a person with a background that isn't swamped by their own research. Have a look around and see what strikes your interest. And I totally agree with sunstorm - read up on the lab's work! It really helps in getting a true understanding of what they're studying rather than just knowing that they work with rats. Also, you'll get much more from an experience if you enjoy what you're doing!! :)
 

SocialStigma

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Email lots and lots of professors.

I am a junior in my undergrad degree and I got my first research position this year. It's a volunteer position but I am learning a lot (basic wet lab techniques, how to immunolabel, perform immunoprecipitation, flow cytometry etc).

In May of this year, I looked up the faculty staff at my university's biochemisty & biomedical sciences, genetics and immunology departments. I read 1-3 publications by each professor so I got a gist of what research they did and could impress them with some prior knowledge. Then I emailed probably 30 of these professors..gave them my spiel "undergrad student looking for research experience, would be okay with volunteering, am interested in your research because _____, listed any prior theoretical experience I had (eg. in cell biology last year I learned about these exact mechanisms blah blah) and attached my CV.

Half of them didn't reply, 1/4 said their lab was full, and 3 of them wanted to meet me for an interview. So it's pretty much a numbers game, contact as many profs as you can.
 

bbeventer

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My lab advisor is fully aware that I am pursuing vet school, in fact he wrote me a LOR. I have mixed feelings as well about openly stating that you are pursuing vet school. Since you are a master student I probably would not state the fact that you want research experience in an email. Professors want workers in their labs that they can train and then will stick around for several years.

Though if an interview is arranged I would not hold back this fact.
 

Trilt

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So, follow-up question: I'm meeting up with the PI and a couple others from the lab I contacted on Friday for something similar to an interview, and I'm curious what others think I should do to prepare. I'm obviously going to read up on the laboratory's recent published work and individuals' biographies, but is there anything else you would suggest?

I have nearly no practical experience in the field (cancer genomics), so sumstorm's suggestion about finding a gap I could work with is rather difficult - I have such a minimal grasp of the techniques, literature, etc. that I don't really feel comfortable suggesting anything, but don't want to seem completely empty-handed. Any suggestions for a happy medium?

PS: Raimes - this is at NC State's vet school, so everyone is not so unfriendly!
 

Bigcatlover

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So, follow-up question: I'm meeting up with the PI and a couple others from the lab I contacted on Friday for something similar to an interview, and I'm curious what others think I should do to prepare. I'm obviously going to read up on the laboratory's recent published work and individuals' biographies, but is there anything else you would suggest?

I have nearly no practical experience in the field (cancer genomics), so sumstorm's suggestion about finding a gap I could work with is rather difficult - I have such a minimal grasp of the techniques, literature, etc. that I don't really feel comfortable suggesting anything, but don't want to seem completely empty-handed. Any suggestions for a happy medium?

PS: Raimes - this is at NC State's vet school, so everyone is not so unfriendly!

I think your best bet is to read up on what the lab does, published paper, the field etc., and just go in sounding genuinely interested in the research, you definitely don't want to appear to have any ulterior motives. Also, I don't think it is so important that you have experience in that specific area, just emphasize any general laboratory techniques that you know, even simple things like making up reagents. A general lab background is always a plus, and anything you know how to do already is something they don't have to train you on.

Hope that helps :xf:
 

laitmanvet

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So, follow-up question: I'm meeting up with the PI and a couple others from the lab I contacted on Friday for something similar to an interview, and I'm curious what others think I should do to prepare. I'm obviously going to read up on the laboratory's recent published work and individuals' biographies, but is there anything else you would suggest?

I have nearly no practical experience in the field (cancer genomics), so sumstorm's suggestion about finding a gap I could work with is rather difficult - I have such a minimal grasp of the techniques, literature, etc. that I don't really feel comfortable suggesting anything, but don't want to seem completely empty-handed. Any suggestions for a happy medium?

PS: Raimes - this is at NC State's vet school, so everyone is not so unfriendly!
What type of position is this for?

Its OK you don't have any experience in the field. I've worked in several different labs and none really related to one another. Some labs even prefer this as it gives them the freedom to train you as they want. Just go in with some knowledge of what they do and the science behind it. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know" if they ask you something about their work. If they say something you don't understand, ask them to explain, it shows you're interested...instead of just staring at them blankly. They might ask about any previous lab work...so I don't know if you have done anything in a completely different field, but if you did be prepared to talk about it a bit.

Honestly, humility and enthusiasm goes a long way. When I interview people I think about whether or not I could ever work with that person. Competency is important too, but again I usually expect to train the person.
 

Trilt

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It's just general volunteer work within the lab - time commitment, possible projects and the such will hopefully be discussed during this meeting, so I have about as much info as you do right now, haha. :)

I am genuinely interested in the research - I actually ran into the lab's work while doing a paper in an unrelated-to-science English course - so hopefully that shows through! It looks like I'll be spending tomorrow evening perusing publications and the lab website.

Anything you would suggest bringing with me? I was thinking a copy or two of my resume (although there isn't much relevant to the position), my course schedule for the next semester and a notepad or something to write down relevant information. Just trying to think of anything I may need or might come up during the conversation...

:xf:
 

bbeventer

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So, follow-up question: I'm meeting up with the PI and a couple others from the lab I contacted on Friday for something similar to an interview, and I'm curious what others think I should do to prepare. I'm obviously going to read up on the laboratory's recent published work and individuals' biographies, but is there anything else you would suggest?

I have nearly no practical experience in the field (cancer genomics), so sumstorm's suggestion about finding a gap I could work with is rather difficult - I have such a minimal grasp of the techniques, literature, etc. that I don't really feel comfortable suggesting anything, but don't want to seem completely empty-handed. Any suggestions for a happy medium?

PS: Raimes - this is at NC State's vet school, so everyone is not so unfriendly!

Just be yourself! It sounds like you have done your homework, and thats great! What these "interviews" are mostly to determine is to see if your personality will be able to mash well with the advisor as well as with others in the lab. Don't be afraid to ask questions, and defiantly show interest if others in the lab show you what they are working on.

Over the summer, my advisor brought 2 grad students into our lab as potential new students, one didn't dress up, seemed bored by parasites, and was unsociable. The other student dressed up, asked questions and seemed rather enthusiastic to get started. The latter got the position even though the first student grossly out qualified her.

Good luck! Let us know how it goes Friday!
 
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Honestly, humility and enthusiasm goes a long way. When I interview people I think about whether or not I could ever work with that person. Competency is important too, but again I usually expect to train the person.
:thumbup::thumbup: This about sums up what I look for when taking on a new lab assistant, as well. I really like to see people asking tons of questions, listening and trying to understand my answers, and showing enthusiasm. I have no problem with questions, asking me to explain even really simple things or the like - just shows me you're interested and *thinking* about things! Things get more hairy when someone comes in and tries to impress me with what they've learned by reading the wikipedia article on our topic ;). It's impossible to know a whole field by reading a few articles so just try to familiarize yourself with the big concepts. And ask questions. Have I mentioned that already? lol

Sounds like you're more than prepared - I'm sure you'll do great! :D
 

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I have nearly no practical experience in the field (cancer genomics), so sumstorm's suggestion about finding a gap I could work with is rather difficult - I have such a minimal grasp of the techniques, literature, etc. that I don't really feel comfortable suggesting anything, but don't want to seem completely empty-handed. Any suggestions for a happy medium?
Don't worry too much at all about techniques. Most bench top techniques are things that you can easily learn as long as you have good listening skills and attention to detail, and have good common sense. My boss used to say... the reason why biologists are paid so poorly is because you can teach monkeys how to do most of the experiments. Sometimes it's easier to teach someone from scratch, because it means you won't come in with bad habits that don't fit with the lab!

Also if this is a field that's new to you, don't pretend to be a know it all, and it'll be all good. Maybe read a review article on major cancer pathways so that things like Rb and p53 and their associated proteins aren't completely foreign to you. If they're heavy on bench top basic science, it'll probably beneficial for you to just know the basic ideas behind PCRs, Blots, nude mice, and reporter assays, but don't sweat the details. If anything, make sure you know the central dogma, and you won't sound ignorant. An interviewer that's not willing to explain things to you or won't give you the chance to learn is one you don't want to work/volunteer for anyways.

When I was applying for lab tech jobs, I just spewed out my resume to every lab that was hiring across Boston that I felt qualified to apply to. So.... when I was called in for interviews, I didn't even know which job description it was that the particular labs were attached to half the time, and I even ended up going to a few not knowing what the lab was studying. But I listened to my interviewers talk about their research, showed interest, asked questions, etc... and I was really well received for the most part. My best interview was actually the one that I went to completely cold! I thought the lab studied teenage anorexia, but it turns out it was a cancer research lab (and no, I didn't take cancer genomics in college) with a really really weird gene that I couldn't relate to in any sense.

So yeah, I mean, the lab you're interviewing for probably has been working on their research topic for YEARS to get to the understanding they have now so you're not by any means responsible for being on top of their knowledge base. As long as you seem enthusiastic and easy to work with, I'm sure you'll do fine!
 

sumstorm

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Oh, filling gaps can include the tedious work. IE willingness ot learn to set gels can get you set in some labs.

BTW, if you are at NCSU, I'd love to know what lab you are looking at. I worked with four undergrads in one lab last year, and it was pretty awesome; they all came in raw and all know more of what they were doing than I did (I hate bench top research; I am well versed in field research.) I might even be able to suggest some of the profs that tend to accept undergrads, and some that have helped undergrads learn to manage their own projects.
 

Trilt

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I know I shouldn't bump old threads, but I wanted to throw an update in here and answer sumstorm's (who I didn't see before).

I wasn't sure how well my interview/meeting went, and not hearing back all winter break didn't really help my confidence in it... but I got an email a couple days ago saying I'm in! Still working on scheduling and the such, but I'm rather excited. :D

So, moral of the story: it really doesn't hurt to ask! Even if you're totally intimidated and inexperienced.

Sumstorm: That sounds like my sort of gap filling, haha! The one I finally emailed and was accepted at is the Breen lab over in the research building.