RogueBanana's Guide to Undergraduate Research

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RogueBanana

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Hey Everyone!
I see a lot of people asking about how to "get in" to research as an undergrad, well fear not! Your good buddy RogueBanana has made a guide just for you!

So Roguey, how do I find a spot as a research assistant?

I'm glad you asked!


1- Ask A Professor

So there are a lot of ways to start research, the easiest way by far is to ask one of your professors if they need help on any of their research projects. Seriously, my first publication came from just asking the prof if he needed help on any projects. He said yes, and I managed to get a co-authorship out of it.

Now, this method obviously requires:
A- That the professor like you
B- Have a research project they need help on
C- You did well in their class (don't ask your OCHEM prof if he needs another lab rat if you're failing the class!)

Now, if you do extremely well in a class, the professor/TA may approach you and ask you if you'd like to help. Often, professors will ask Laboratory TAs who the "top students" are, and then offer these students a research spot. So just in case you needed another reason to do well in the sciences, there you go!

I have seen this happen, in fact, my best friend and I were both approached by our Organic Chem Lab TA for this exact reason. We both became tutors for the school, and both do research for the professor in his lab.


2- Check the school classifieds

Many times, non-teaching faculty who are conducting research will post advertisements on the school website looking for lab assistants or aides. These positions may even be paid! I've seen quite a few posted on my school website.



3- Email Lab Directors

If you are qualified/slightly experienced in a particular area (most of you are experienced enough in BIO to be a junior researcher) then you can email the BIO Lab director and politely ask

"Excuse me, I was wondering if there were any opportunities to become a student researcher in your lab/department? Do you know of any professors who are working on projects that may need some help?"

This is a bit awkward since you are essentially cold-calling, but I've never known an under-funded state run laboratory to turn down free-labor in exchange for writing your name on the paper.


4- Ask other student researchers

As a post-grad researcher, I have a little bit of pull in my lab (i've been there for almost a year now)
So if a friend of mine needs research experience and they know their stuff, I can usually put a good word in to the lab director and get them a spot.

Be smart with this! If the guy you contact hates you / knows you are inexperienced in the field, he won't risk his reputation to get you a spot!

But it can never hurt you to ask other pre-meds and students "Hey man, does your lab need undergrad assistants?" I've seen plenty of people get their research started that way.



Okay Roguey! I have a research spot, what happens now?????


Well, initially they won't give you anything hard/important because they are going to assume (correctly) you will probably ruin it. Most of your time will be spent doing menial tasks, repetitive things (like cleaning test tubes or pouring solvents) or just following the directions of your PI/Graduate supervisor. This is normal. Once they begin to have some faith in you and learn your abilities they will give you more responsibilities, and you will have a much more significant place in the lab. Feel free to ask questions, the rest of the lab will expect you to know essentially nothing about the practical application of science. You've been stuck inside books all this time after all!

After a few months, If you find that you enjoy research, you might even consider asking your Lab director for your own unique project.

After you spend a couple months in the lab, you will eventually be given a specific task within the project to work on. (My first task was to create the reagents that my supervisor would use for his reactions down the line)

After a few months of doing this, you will be given more and more freedom to experiment and contribute to the lab. At this point, your first project with the lab may be wrapping up.

This brings me to my next point:

RogueBanana, the lab is publishing our work, now what??

Well, a couple things actually.

1- If you've worked hard, contributed to the project and/or made a new discovery on your own, they will usually list you as an author! Congratulations!

2- If you're new, or didn't do much, they may not list you. This is fine! Take a more active role in the next project and show the lab director you want more responsibility.

3- If you weren't listed but believe you deserve credit, talk to the lead researcher (in many cases, this may be the graduate student doing all the leg work for the director.) Whatever you do, don't cop an attitude with them. You don't deserve anything. You are getting valuable experience and points for your medical school app. Anything more is just a bonus. If you can convince them, great! If not, don't push it.



So now you've completed a research project, congratulations! If you enjoy research, you can continue down this path, eventually becoming a first author (running your own project) I recommend sticking with it. Research is awesome!

Or you can sit back and relax knowing you fulfilled another checkbox on your medical school app!

Either way, now you know a little bit about the process.

Good Luck!

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Also, actually read research articles if your PI assigns them to you. It will help for the MCAT.

Edit: Just read research consistently in general.
 
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I'd like to add that there might be poster sessions at your university for undergrads and I think it's a great way to see what research is going on at your school. You can also get feedback from current students who are working in the lab as well. On another note, don't just pick a lab to check the research box on your application. Only do research if you're interested.
 
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I think it's important to realize that labs are like small businesses, and thus each will be run a little differently so it's always good to go into a lab with an open mindset and with an ability to adapt to your surroundings.

Overall, good post.
 
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Also, something I think undergrads miss is the value of a GOOD lab notebook. Once you get into daily research life, you WISH you had taken your lab notebook as seriously as they wanted you to in analytical chem. Really record details, down to the "how long did this sit on the bench?", beuase you will be AMAZED at how much faster you get from it.

Also, don't be afraid to reach out as a freshman to a lab to join! And don't be afriad to switch labs once you feel you have moved on both in terms of projects and interest.
 
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Also, actually read research articles if your PI assigns them to you. It will help for the MCAT.

Edit: Just read research consistently in general.
I like to try and derive understanding from the Results section alone. The ability to translate quantitive data into qualitative concepts is a valuable life skill.
 
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I like to try and derive understanding from the Results section alone. Translating numbers --> concepts is a valuable life skill to possess in life.
Try looking at the figures WITHOUT reading the results. This actually is a gret lesson in analysis and comparing one's data to someone else.
 
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Try looking at the figures WITHOUT reading the results. This actually is a gret lesson in analysis and comparing one's data to someone else.
Oh, most def. It's the baptism by fire I give newbies in lab ;). I finished undergrad and the MCAT a while ago so I'm just lazy nowadays haha
 
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Oh, most def. It's the baptism by fire I give newbies in lab ;). I finished undergrad and the MCAT a while ago so I'm just lazy nowadays haha
LOL I know the feeling. I was told by the PI to do similar things to our newbs ;)

Though retakes are looming over me...sigh.
 
The most important tip I could give for going into research is to not like your desire to get into a research lab make you join a lab that you aren't passionate about (just because the professor let you in).
 
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Frat hazing has nothing on the grind we put those poor kids through :confused:


MCAT?
Dude I love my youngsters! I never see them now...but I seriously loved the freshmen/sophomores. I was nice to them but made them learn. Tough and loving ;)

And yes groan. I did okay the first time (I think right around 90th percentile, maybe 91st?) but need higher for MSTP, which is what I think I want to go for....kill me. We can PM if you're interested in my struggle lol
 
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