For many students, like myself, one only ever heard talk about research when it was in reference to work being done in hospitals to cure diseases or when your teachers talked about the big paper that required a long bibliography. But it wasn’t until college that I realized that research was an entirely different world that I wanted to submerse myself in. I now devote my summers to research on my campus working as a full time researcher in a biology lab.
What is research?
Merriam-Webster defines research as: studious inquiry or examination; especially : investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws.
1. Find an area of research that interests you
There is research that happens in every field. Many people hear research and think essays or science. Any field you can imagine does research to answer questions that crop up. You may find that you meet a professor that does research in an area that interests you or you could take a class and realize that you’d like to do more research in that field.
2. Find research opportunities to apply for.
Many colleges and universities do some types of research. Reading up on professors and their work and background can give you a place to start when looking for an opportunity to do research during the summer. If your school does not offer research opportunities in an area that interests you, look around on the internet and apply to whatever you qualify for. Professors can also be good resources for finding opportunities outside of the university as well. Some opportunities will favor students with more experience but if there’s nothing to be lost, then apply anyway. Even if you don’t get it, you now have more experience filling out applications for that type of program.
3. Work out any logistics
Housing, payment, duration are just some of the things to think about during the summer. Some research opportunities may be close to home so housing may not be a concern but that’s not always the case. My university offers free housing to students who do more than 20 hours of research a week during the summer.
If the program does offer housing, make sure you fill out any paperwork that may be needed. If the program offers some sort of stipend or payment to its researchers, you should fill out any required paperwork as soon as you can. Some schools have funds to pay students who are doing low or non-paying internships/research so you may want to apply for that if your research program does not offer a stipend. Make a budget for food if you are cooking for yourself so you don’t end up overspending since for many students, this may be their first time doing all their grocery shopping. Also, don’t pack the night before because you will undoubtedly forget something and there is no reason to repurchase things you already had.
4. Prepare before your research opportunity starts.
Depending on your project and your background, you may not need to do anything. But I know I needed to spend my time before my research began brushing up on some concepts and methods. If you are unsure of what you should be doing before your research starts, email the head of your program and ask. It’s always better to be over prepared than unprepared. The more prepared you are, the less time you’ll need to spend at the beginning of your research opportunity catching up.
5. Remember to find ways to enjoy yourself when not doing your research.
That could be as simple as curling up with your laptop and watching Netflix with some ice cream or Skyping with your friends back home. All work and no play can really drain you. Find time to recharge in whatever way you need. Hanging out with people you work with outside of working on your projects can be fun too.
6. Check in with yourself and how you are feeling.
I am a strong believer in taking inventory of your feelings throughout new experiences. You could be feeling the happiest you’ve ever felt but that’s not the only way to feel.
Regardless of how you feel, there can always be things to learn. If you love the research you’re doing, you may consider it as a possible career. One summer doing something you don’t like informs you that you may want to consider another field to research in, if you want to continue doing research at all. Every experience is beneficial because you expose yourself to something new. Always remember that your health (physical, emotional and mental) is the most important thing to think about. Take care of yourself and talk to your program heads if something isn’t working and you need to stop or just need some extra help. All of this is fine and is nothing to be ashamed of. Self care is self love.
7. Lastly, work your hardest and don’t slack off.
Regardless of how you feel towards your research, you made the commitment to follow through and do your best. Be inquisitive and bring the best of yourself to the table. The people you work with could be future references for you and you want to keep as many doors open as possible. Enjoy yourself as much as possible and try to learn as much as you can during your summer research experience.