How I Started Research at Dartmouth
It’s something that almost all colleges and universities boast: undergraduate opportunities for research.
As I've mentioned in previous posts, I knew I wanted to go to medical school early on, so when I was looking at potential colleges, the ability for undergraduates to become involved with research was high on my list of requirements. Although I had done basic laboratory research during a summer of high school, I was also pretty unsure about what undergraduate research even constituted of and where to begin. Some people suggest starting to work in a laboratory freshmen year, while others say that it’s best to wait and adapt to college life first. It all varies based on you. I spent a decent amount of time spring term figuring out what research I wanted to do and meeting with professors, so next year I have a position lined up for me at a laboratory in the Geisel School of Medicine.
How did I start this process? First, I checked out the websites for the Undergraduate Biology Department and the Geisel School of Medicine. I concentrated on the faculty pages since the professors often have short descriptions of their research or, even better, links to lab websites. I proceeded to then give them a quick email about why I’m interested and offered to meet up with them in person. A few summers ago, and over the winter break, I tried to find an internship at the National Institutes for Health (NIH) in my hometown Bethesda, Maryland. I would send at least fifty emails and not get a single reply. With that mentality, I was hoping for just one reply. To my surprise, every professor I emailed got back to me -- one even told me that he was no longer doing that research and referred me to two other professors.
While I can only speak for my experience trying to find a research opportunity, many of my friends have also had positive results in pursuing research. Some of my friends started early, freshman year winter term, with the Women in Science Program, which links freshmen women in STEM directly to professors (and it’s paid, too!). Others have just emailed professors and, similar to me, met with them and then started working. If you’re still feeling lost and want additional help, the Undergraduate Advising and Research program is also available to help you navigate where to begin, who you can do research with, and funding.
In virtually every department, professors are doing research and support undergraduate involvement. Research offers a glimpse into what scholars actually do and some of the behind-the-scenes action behind published papers, journal articles, and books. It’s also not a binding commitment – after a term you can certainly quit if the specific lab isn’t working for you or research in general just isn’t your thing. And who knows, you just might find that you love it.