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Take Aways from "how to get a research position"

Contributor Vivian Cheng, VP Communications


Courtesy of edsurge.com

Hey lovely humans!

We wanted to thank you for attending our “How to Get a Research Position” event Thursday. We had an incredible turnout of approximately 200 people! If you didn’t attend our session, don’t worry, we’ve summarized the highlights below for you.


We’ve written extensively about research on our blog, so if you’re interested in learning about various individual’s experiences, we highly recommend that you check out previous articles. This article provides you a recap with what was discussed at yesterday’s event.


Research positions are highly coveted, and for good reason too. These positions offer a chance to gain some real-life experience as well as some networking experience in the scientific community. PCR, gel electrophoresis, Western blotting or working with cell cultures are just a few of the many skills that shine on any student’s CV. Working in a lab allows you to become well-versed in these laboratory techniques and truly learn about their significance. Research expands your critical thinking skills by forcing you to quickly apply theoretical concepts to practical problems.


Guest speaker Derek McLachlin, biochemistry professor at Western University, spoke about his research interests in Quaternary structure of E.Coli ATP Synthase, protein phosphorylation by mass spectrometry and chemical tools and scholarship of teaching and learning. More importantly, however, he offered honest advice regarding what he (and likely many other professors) looks for in potential students.


Emailing professors expressing your general interest in “research” just won’t cut it. You need to do your homework and show that you have a genuine interest in what their research is about. You need to be able to have an intelligent conversation about the professor’s work in order to have a chance at actually working in their lab. Most notably, it seemed that sending a “template” email—one where you simply swap out the name of the recipient in the introduction—to dozens of professors at a time is about the worst approach you could take. Although professors understand that you may be pursuing many different options, adopting this mass email tactic could come off as lazy and uninterested.


After his speech, we shared our own insights into research. If you’re just browsing for research, we recommend looking within your own faculty and reaching out to your own professors. Turning to the internet (obviously) is also highly recommended. Browsing the search results of google can help you find positions both within and outside of Western. Good keywords for Google are:

  • Undergraduate Research + (UWO or hospital name or city name)

  • Undergraduate Summer Research + (location)

  • … + (area of interest)

While research positions are competitive, don’t just apply to any research position, try to find research in a discipline that interests you. Crawl through faculty pages, look at faculty research interests and contact individuals’ who’s research you’re interested in. Understand the difference between clinical and wet lab research.


But before you shoot off those emails, please do some of your own research. Look up information about their lab, research and the direction of their work. If you’re still unsure about what a field of study actually entails, do what millennials and Gen Z’ers do best and turn to YouTube.


Now, let’s get to the juicy part — crafting emails. You’ll want to attach a short message along with maybe an unofficial transcript, cover letter (if you are able to make one) and CV. Most importantly, you want to be genuine and show real interest. Ensure that you greet them formally and maintain a professional tone.


Finally, our event concluded with speakers talking about their different research experiences. They talked about SURE, Hamilton Health Sciences research, KRSS at St. Michael’s, Hamilton/McMaster  NSERC, DUROP and Work Study. They delved into the program’s description, application process and their personal experiences in the program.


With the diversity of opportunity available for getting that elusive research position, one thing really stands out. There is no step-by-step guide on “how to get a research position”. The most important thing is to put yourself out there, network as much as you can, build meaningful relationships, and jump on any opportunity that you can get. Ultimately, research offers a great experience that science students should try. Make sure not to approach it as something that you have to do in order to fill in a gap on your CV. Instead, use it as an opportunity to grow as a young scientist and navigate your way through your undergraduate degree as a student.