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For Undergrads, Mentors, Instructors, and Professors: Why Choose Getting In

— from the Lab Manager's bench and PI's desk

For Students: how Getting In: The Insider’s Guide to Finding the Perfect Undergraduate Research Experience will make all the difference in your search and help you prepare for life as an Undergrad In The Lab

You’re busy.
Undergraduate research positions are competitive.

Faced with searching databases of outdated advertisements, sending countless unanswered emails to potential research mentors, and trying to read scientific papers filled with incomprehensible jargon, it’s no wonder that searching for a research experience is hard to do.

That’s where Getting In will help.

Whether you want to participate in a research experience to help you pursue your life’s goals, because you like the idea of research, or aren’t even sure if it’s right for you, Getting In will help you be a more competitive applicant and help you choose a research experience that will be a meaningful use of your time. In other words, Getting In will help you find the research experience that is perfect for you.

Some of the topics we address in Getting In include:

How much time will research take? The research position you accept should be compatible with your goals and the time you have available for a research experience. We help you estimate how much time you might need for research, and how to address that estimate with your potential research mentor at an interview.

How will you find the time for research? Participating in a research experience doesn’t mean giving up your social life or risking your GPA. We give you a step-by-step strategy that includes planning your schedule, identifying and cutting low-value activities to make room for your research experience, and maintaining a healthy academic/life balance each semester.

Mistakes to avoid. Even the most persistent student will waste time and effort if they make certain mistakes during the search, application, or interview stages. We cover the most common ones made in each category, explain why they are mistakes, and tell you how to avoid them.

When advertisements fail. As many undergraduates quickly learn during their search for a research position, advertisements are useful when they work and incredibly frustrating when they don’t. If advertisements don’t work for you, there is no reason to worry. Choose an approach from the section, “Creative ways to find a research position,” to move your search forward. For many students, these approaches help them find a research position faster and with far less frustration.

Should you read a scientific paper? Even though it’s standard advice, not all students read a scientific journal article before contacting a professor about a research position. We help you decide if it’s right for you, offer tips if you decide to do it, and give an alternative if you decide to skip it. (And we tell you why you should never claim to have read a paper if you didn’t.)

How can a classmate help? Undergraduates we interviewed often mentioned the disappointment of speaking with friends about how to find research position. With advice such as, “Send email to as many professors as possible,” or “I don’t know, I just kinda found a position,” it easy to understand why. We provide specific questions you should ask a classmate, and include things you should keep in mind as you consider their answers.

Send Email that gets you noticed. It’s true that professors receive a lot of emails. So how do you get yours noticed? Because a professor will spend only a few seconds to a short minute reading your email, we tell what you need to do to catch their attention and increase the chance of a reply. We also provide email templates for you to customize to make the greatest, positive impact and save you time.

A strategy to approach a professor in person. Whether you ask after lecture or at office hours, when you have the professor’s attention it’s important to make the most out of those moments. We give you a strategy to help turn that interaction into an interview.

How to follow up and get results. Whether you’re asked for more information, are told the “lab is full” or receive no response at all, what you do next matters. Therefore, we cover those scenarios and give a timeline of when and how to follow up with a professor when needed.

Insider's tips for interviewing. There is more to an impressive interview than showing up on time and answering questions with enthusiasm. To start, we share “Interview 101” tips to make sure that you’re set with the basics. Then we lay out a strategy that includes how to avoid "interview killers" such as oversharing, misrepresenting goals or a career path, sidestepping questions, or phrases that can be misinterpreted and cost you the position.

How to prepare for an interview. To save time and help reduce your stress, we include a strategy to prepare for the interview starting with details to consider when scheduling it. Then we break down the process into easy steps and include a timeline that includes a short, confidence-boosting tip to do a few minutes before the interview.

The interview questions you should ask. How do you know what questions are essential to ask an interviewer if you haven’t participated in a research experience yet? We give you a list of specific questions so you’ll impress the interviewer, and be able to evaluate if the position is the perfect one for you.

Tips to handle the awkward interview moments. What if you don't know how to answer a question and start to panic? What if you’re asked about a low grade on your transcript? What if you’re offered the position at the interview but it’s not right for you? We help you prepare before the interview so you’ll know what to do or what to say. (We even include tips on how to tell the professor if you accept the position but later change your mind!)

How to evaluate the opportunity. We guide you through the all-important evaluation process after the interview—is it the perfect research position for you? Will you be able to achieve your goals and uphold the time commitment? What if you need to decide between two positions? We give you the questions to ask yourself to help you sort out what you’re feeling.

Why Choose Research. We break down the advantages of pursing an in-depth research experience into several categories: professional development, personal development, academic advantages, connections, potential financial rewards, and recommendation letters. No matter your career path or long-term goal, we help answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Understanding research. From explaining why there is no one-size-fits-all research experience, the difference between wet and dry lab research, to an overview of who your labmates might be and their roles in the lab, we provide key insight that will make the start of your research experience easier.

Lab class versus research lab. This section covers some of the potential differences among lab classes and professional research labs that catch students off guard. Depending on the labs involved, research in a professional lab can be distinctly different from research in a lab class. We highlight potential differences that you might encounter such as how your time will be spent, how feedback is given, the level of self-reliance your mentor might expect from you, and more.

To register or not to register? Should you take research as a volunteer, for GPA credit, or have it listed on your transcript without a grade attached? We include a simple strategy to help you make the right decision for you before your GPA is on the line.

What will you do all day? Essentially, there are three ways for an undergraduate to join a lab: as an observer, a researcher, or a general lab assistant. We provide an overview of each position, and how your time will likely be spent depending on the position you accept. We also include advice on how to be successful regardless of which opportunity you are offered.

If you read nothing else, read the free chapters that are available at Amazon by clicking here: Getting In The Insider’s Guide to Finding the Perfect Undergraduate Research Experience

For Research Mentors: how Getting In can help students already in the lab

Although we wrote Getting In for students, we admit that it was not an entirely altruistic undertaking. As mentors, we know that when a student is genuinely interested in their project, and able to uphold the time commitment, they are more likely to be happy, successful, and make a contribution.

With those ideas in mind, we wrote Getting In to guide students through the search process as they identify and choose a personally meaningful research experience. We also address misconceptions about research that were brought up during our interviews with undergraduates and advisors alike.

Getting In provides new researchers with the tools they need to manage their time outside the lab and an overview of what to expect from a research experience.

If you follow us on Twitter, facebook, or read our blog, you already know what we’re about.

Some topics covered in Getting In include the following:

Reliability, expectations, genuine interest. Throughout Getting In, we reinforce that it’s important for undergraduates to approach their research opportunity with openness to learning—no matter if they participate for a single semester, a full-time summer, or several years. In addition, we address that their mentor’s expectations will likely include an elevated level of professionalism, the determination to do quality work, and a genuine interest in the research project.

A time-management strategy that benefits both the student and the mentor. As research mentors, we rely on a student’s assurance that they can uphold the time commitment without compromising their academics. However, many undergraduates approach their research position without truly knowing if they will be able to do so, and simply hope that it will magically work out. Getting In helps students eliminate the guesswork with a strategy for scheduling and prioritizing their time. This is the strategy we require undergrads in our lab to use as part of their overall college time management.

Research takes effort. We are blunt in stating that it will take effort to learn about what’s going on in the lab, and that it will take a personal investment. We emphasize the importance of arriving at the lab on time, ready to work and contribute, and recommend adopting “What more can I learn?” as a personal philosophy.

Research is more than benchwork. Even after they’ve been in the lab for a while, undergrads sometimes wonder why they are required to do lab chores, or wonder what their labmates do all day. (And we all know that asking the wrong person, at the wrong time, in the wrong tone can be offensive to say the least.) We cover that research is more than benchwork, and how their research mentor might be making a significant contribution to their project behind the scenes.

Why upholding a research commitment is important. As we learned during our interviews with undergraduates, many don’t make the connection between upholding a time commitment and making progress on a project, being assigned “interesting” tasks to do in the lab, or earning a strong recommendation letter. Although we reassure that no PI would want a student to feel pressured to stay in a lab, we include a frank section called, “Ten reasons that honesty is the best policy when it comes to your research time commitment.” We also recommend visiting the campus counseling office if to help with time-management or stress as needed.

A serious email tutorial. The section, “Eleven guidelines for emailing a professor,” was written to secure a research position, but we explain that a similar, professional approach should be used in all email correspondence for professors, teaching assistants, or administrators. Tips include the salutation, signature, getting to the point, avoiding a long backstory, how to eliminate flowery language, and more.

Research symposia etiquette. For guidance on how to get the most out of poster sessions we wrote, “Nine tips for attending a poster session at a symposium.” The section includes specific questions to ask poster presenters such as, “What is the big question you’re trying to answer with your project,” and “Why is it important.” Also included are etiquette tips such as ask before photographing a poster, don’t waste a presenter’s time, and don’t block other’s access to a poster. Although the section was written to help students turn a poster session into an interview for a research position, the vast majority of it is relevant for all conferences.

How to practice safe seminar. Students are often unaware that attending a professional research seminar requires a level of professionalism that they might not rise to in a lecture class. We’ve included a section on seminar etiquette, and advice on taking notes while at a professional research talk. Even if a student doesn’t use these sections to get a research position, they will benefit from applying them when they attend seminars.

Joining the lab as a general lab assistant. First, we instruct students to confirm that the position can be used as stepping-stone for a research one if that is their ultimate goal. Second, we cover why it’s essential to work hard, avoid complaining, and do a quality job on even the most boring tasks. (“PIs have a tendency to be annoyed when paying for subpar work.”)

Joining the lab as an observer. We explain that many PIs invite students to “observe to learn” as way to screen potential researchers, while introducing them to the inner workings of the lab. We emphasize the importance of taking this opportunity as seriously as a research one.

Identifying realistic expectations. In the section, “Understanding your expectations-your Strategy for Happiness and Success,” we cover some ideas students hold about research, and what is often the more realistic scenario. Two are: “I’m already an expert in the techniques from lab class, so research will be easy,” and “I only need research experience to get a recommendation letter, so the project doesn’t matter.”

A research experience happens outside the lab, too. Many undergraduates are surprised that attending seminars, creating or presenting posters, reading papers, or planning experiments might be part of a research experience, and that they may need to be done outside of scheduled lab time. We cover a few topics that might be part of a student’s research experience that are unlikely to come up at interviews.

To read the free chapters available at Amazon click here: Getting In The Insider’s Guide to Finding the Perfect Undergraduate Research Experience