What does it take to get into a research lab? That was the topic of the November iCons Coffee Hour, where iCons 4 students took a step back from the research projects they are undertaking in UMass faculty laboratories to reflect on how they got there.
In describing the various paths they took to get into research, the students demonstrated that there is no right answer. But there is a right attitude. Although each student told a different story, all shared a common thread: You've got to follow your passion.
Wednesday's gathering featured a panel of iCons 4 students - Joey Johnson (Biology and Nutrition), Anthony Damiano (Environmental Science), Ela Correa (Electrical Engineering), and Marco Eres (Chemistry) - speaking about "Finding a Research Opportunity", after which several other iCons 4 students chimed in with words of wisdom.
"It's kind of like dating," said Dmitri Livitz (Chemical Engineering), explaining the importance of fostering a connection with a professor before expecting to get a spot in his or her lab. "You have to make an effort to get to know them."
That can mean attending seminars, reading research papers, connecting with other students in their lab group, and making an appearance at office hours for face-to-face introductions. "Just telling them, 'Your research is cool', is not going to cut it. You need to do your homework"
Also like in dating, it's important to learn how to handle rejection, and remain positive. "If they tell you that you're not a good fit for a lab, then you probably just aren't a good fit," explained Sandra McEnroe (Chemistry). "Don't be discouraged."
Joey Johnson suggested that students consider things from the point of view of the professor. "It's an investment for them," she said, explaining both the work and the risk associated with training a new student. "It's important to emphasize your willingness to learn."
iCons Program Director Professor Auerbach helped to distill the faculty perspective even more. "Faculty have an agenda," he said, alluding to the constant pressure to publish and win grants, "But you have an agenda too, so you can look for places where they overlap."
For iCons sophomore Tim Shea, the evening was a source of motivation. "My mission for next semester is to secure research for junior year," he said. "The panel definitely got me excited to begin the process."
Looking for resources on undergraduate research? Here's a great place to start: Office of Undergraduate Research and Studies