Whether you are just trying to wet your feet early or you are trying to build a strong research resume, getting into a research laboratory may be what you are looking for. I am currently a freshman at The College of William & Mary and I am working on two research projects in the Biology Department. This may sound unheard of to many, but it is very possible to get into a research lab as a freshman in college. These tips are applicable to most college students and is not restricted to any particular social class or field of study. Many of the examples I mention will be specific to my college but the principles should be applicable to most institutions. This advice’s usefulness may vary based on your university’s available programs, resources and size.
First as an entering freshman, you should look for any summer programs that the college may offer to incoming freshmen. William & Mary offers a program called Preparing for Life as a University Student-Science (PLUS-S) which is an extension of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) however this program is by invitation only.
During this program, students are allowed to spend two hours a day for a week in a lab shadowing some of the students in various labs and get an idea of the flow and procedures of research projects. Students in this particular program also get to stay in research housing for a week and take 80% of a 1 credit class (which they will finish in the fall). Some of these programs also offer a gateway to more research opportunities during the rest of the year. My college has two specific freshman labs that can be alternatives to the normal biology labs for freshman; Phage lab and Honors Lab. Honors Lab works on various project and that is the one I am currently enrolled in. We are working on bioinformatics to analyze the DNA of H. Pylori bacteria. Phage lab is working on looking for new never before discovered bacteriophages (or viruses that infect bacteria). Each year they find one or two new types of phage that can get sequenced and sometimes even create their own unique class of phage.
Work with Professors
Second, another would be to do research on what the professors do projects on. If they are doing something that interests you, send them an email and ask how you can also get involved. Preferably, email them later in the semester after you’ve started college. I always try to sound eager and really excited to do hands on learning but that is a personal preference.
If that doesn’t work you can always look out for more programs that are designed to get freshman or students in general into labs to do research. HHMI also has a program that is meant for freshman called Freshman Research and the goal is to get students into a lab (of a subject that they are interested in) and have them start learning the basics of doing research. I did this program as well this spring and I am going to be continuing work on the project I got put on over the summer. And that brings me to my final tip, summer research. Some schools allow certain students to stay over the summer for a set amount of time and strictly do research on current projects (or new ones depending on the lab and the professor) Im going to guess that it would be easier to stay to do summer research if you have begun to build a relationship with the professor before the summer comes around. If you do plan on staying, do make sure you exhaust all your options available on campus for funding such as grants and fellowships. That way you can earn some sort of monetary reward for all your hard work.
Every school is different but these are meant to be a guideline to get you guys pointed in the right direction. I highly encourage talking to other students who are currently in labs to ask how they got to be where they are. Take that and try to make it fit to what you are trying to do. But dont get stressed if you cant get into a lab as a freshman; there is plenty of time left for you to do research. It also helps to build a relationship with a professor and that comes with time. So good luck and happy researching! Feel free to ask me any questions you may have in the comments section!