Landing a Research Project in Science

scienceOne of the most common questions science students ask themselves is: “How/Why/Where/When do I get started with research?”

Most labs have limited financial and human resources, so it’s hard for them to accommodate and train a complete beginner.

It’s true, professors look for research experiences on your CV, it’s the reason I was turned down at my first interview for a volunteer research position.

So what’s the good news? Here’s how to get started.


How I first went about it was to email all the professors I could find listed in the departments and faculties. I did my research on the professors’ projects and interests and wrote detailed, personalized emails. It turns out profs are very busy people and they receive so many of these requests regularly that many never get read. For statistical purposes, I sent out 50~60 emails. I heard back from around 8-10, out of which most were informing me that all positions are full. I had 2 that responded positively. One ended up with an interview, but I was turned down for not having enough experience..

Don’t get me wrong, I think volunteering awesome, but it’s very competitive and you may not hear back. Generally the tasks are very easy and do not require any previous experience. Any training you will need comes with the position. After a semester or two you are placed in charge of more tasks and you can approach the professor to express your interest in doing a project.

Here is a link of many of the science profs that are known to offer volunteer opportunities to students. It never hurts to try.


396 Research Courses

This is how I got my first research experience, and I’m highly recommending this as a starting option. These are 3-credit courses and last one semester. And the last time I checked, they do not qualify as part of the complementary courses, only as electives.

The difficulty of the projects vary; some of the complex projects have 400-level courses are pre-reqs, most just have 200-level requirements, and some only the very basics.

I signed up for a project in human genetics, met with the professor,  enrolled in the course, and was paired with a graduate student in the lab. I learned all the techniques and knowledge on the go, and it has been very practical in the sense that my research was helping find better treatments for people living with certain genetic conditions.

By the end I was fluent with pipets and microscopes, finished it with a well-written report, and got a very good grade.

Here is a link to everything to know about these 396 courses. If you don’t see any that interest you, you can always approach one of your professors to propose your own 396 project.


Independent Research Projects / Directed Readings

Not available in all departments, but these could count toward complementary credits. These can last anywhere from 1 semester to 3 semesters, so they could be worth as much as 9-credits! If you really enjoy working on your project, this is a fantastic option to explore.

Always check with your program adviser before filling any forms.


Wine & Cheese / Coffee / Tea / Networking

I have been to several wine & cheeses networking events across several departments. They are advertised to be chances to get into labs but I have yet to see that happen. Many of these labs are already at full-capacity. I get the feeling the networking events are just that: networking events. They are more suitable chances to get to know some profs in person and if you had an engaging conversation you can contact the prof later to propose any projects or joining the lab.

There have also been a normal visit to the office that turned into conversation over tea or coffee. This is actually how I got my second project, starting next semester. I will be making more posts about that as we progress through the year.


In conclusion, my one advice would be to go pay a little visit to a prof. Talking face to face is the best way to get started.








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