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How to Get a Research Position: a Night of Networking, Information, and Inspiration

Contributor Vicky Chang

Juggling responsibilities as a science undergraduate student is not easy. On top of grades and midterms, you’re managing extra-curriculars, volunteering, and of course, the question that’s on everyone’s mind: how do I find a research position? At our most popular event, we have you covered on that last point, very thoroughly answering the title question in collaboration with UWO Pre-Med Society at How to Get a Research Position. From broad tips to the nitty gritty details, here are some take away messages:  

First, we heard from Dr. Derek McLachlin, an assistant professor of biochemistry at Western. He shed some light on both the informal and formal research opportunities available to undergraduate students, especially in the biochemistry department. Respectively, there are PIs you may approach in the biochemistry department about volunteering in their lab, or apply more structurally through Western’s Work Study Program or by taking the biochemistry research courses from 3380G, to 3390, 4486E, and high-level research in 4999E.  Just make sure you remain mindful of those prerequisites!

The overall consensus between Dr. McLachlin and the students who presented on their various research expertise really struck on crafting a specific email to each PI and undoubtedly express why you, in particular, are interested in working in their lab. No PI wants to be the recipient of a generic email, and you want to approach this process with the right first step by sending the type of email that is least likely to get ignored. However, don’t be put down by a lack of reply, either. That’s an important second message: do not be afraid of rejection. Many presenters emphasized that simply due to busy work schedules or a lack of openings at a lab, some emails may never get hit with that reply. It’s important to not take it personally, and continue shooting your shot.

Thirdly, it can be critical to start preparing and looking early, especially if you are looking to secure funding for your research position. In competitive processes such as these, there cannot be enough emphasis placed on two key items, as Arani Shanker, current president of the UWO Pre-Med Society stressed. First, make sure you use your CV or resume as an elevator pitch to show that you would really be an asset to their team. Everything you write on there should be written with purpose, and in its rightful place. Second, as Arani accentuated, “Transferable skills – tattoo that to your brain!” Highlighting the transferable skills you possess to make you a strong candidate is so important in any application extending beyond research opportunities.

The incredible turnout!

It was incredible to see the panel of experienced students come out to share their expertise and tips on applying. Hearing about everything they have already accomplished was rather inspirational for me and got me pumped about starting this process myself. Special thanks to Dr. Derek McLachlin for speaking as well as to everyone who came out that night. Turnout was insane and I hope everyone there got the motivation they needed that night to get on that research position grind.

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