Undergraduates have the opportunity to join a faculty lab and play a meaningful role in advancing its research agenda.
Undergraduate researchers are mentored by faculty and work closely with the lab’s graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. They are valued lab members, attending lab meetings and participating in journal clubs. They co-author publications, present at national meetings, and fund their own research through competitive awards.
The typical trajectory is to begin by shadowing a graduate student or a post-doctoral fellow and reading assigned articles. Students next volunteer in the lab, learning techniques and beginning to gain some skills. At this point, many students will apply their newly acquired skills to internships, REUs at other schools, clinical immersion experiences, or entrepreneurship. Others will continue on in their UVA labs, gaining independence and mastery enough to propose a semester-long "for-credit" research project. Some students will spend multiple, contiguous semesters and summers in their UVA labs, from first or second year until graduation.
Research is performed on a paid, for-credit or volunteer basis, both during the summer and academic year. Some students work in the same lab for several semesters or years. Other students try research and move on.
Not getting started early enough is the #1 biggest regret of graduating students at exit interview time in fourth year - even for those students who moved on to internships, entrepreneurship, policy, public health, or premed.
Don't wait for labs to contact you.
Not going to happen. And don't expect there to be a magic list of current opportunities. It doesn't exist. That said, yes, labs do occasionally send out "help wanted" ads through the firstname.lastname@example.org mailing list. But don't sit around waiting on those emails. The reality is that you need to do some leg work.
The first thing you need is a viable narrative.
Why are you contacting THAT specific lab? Just a sentence or two. Don't spend hours on this. But do some research. Review the lab's website. Do you have any mentored research or industry experience that is relevant?
If not, reflect on what you like to do. What do you get absorbed in? What have you trained to do? You can often parlay non-science skills and interests into a "viable narrative." Come to BME Cookie Hour and chat with BME graduate students about what they like to do, how got started, and what they do now. BME Cookie Hour is 3:00p - 3:15p every Wednesday in the MR5 second floor atrium.
You also need resilience.
The following scenario is not unusual: You took the time to research a lab, you're really psyched about it, and the lab is not looking for students, or they just ignore your email. The next step? Follow up and simultaneously move on.
Don't limit yourself to BME labs.
There are 300+ BME Majors and 26 BME Labs. You get the picture. Many BMEs work in labs outside the department. It helps that we are a 30-second walk from all the research labs in the UVA School of Medicine.
Just try! Try something!
Graduating students often reflect that they really sync with their career goals in third year. In other words, you're not alone. But it's no excuse for not trying. Try talking to your instructors and TAs after class. Try talking to your advisor about more than which class to take. Try contacting a lab (with a viable narrative). Try emailing a faculty member in the School of Medicine. Come to Cookie Hour. Talking to people is something that you can do, even if you don't have time to volunteer in a lab this semester.
Step One: If you take a class with a TA who is from the Epstein Lab, introduce yourself and talk to them first. Or: Email graduate contacts expressing interest in working in the lab and to see if the lab is a good fit. Step Two: Come to cookie hour (Wednesday's at 3pm in the BME Lobby) (attending cookie hour is good advice for any of the labs). Step Three: Talk to the student contacts about coming to see the lab in action. Step Four: Attend a lab meeting (Tuesday's at 1pm).
Graduate Contact: Chris Waters (email@example.com)
Step One: Email the graduate contact and Dr. French (firstname.lastname@example.org) expressing interest in joining the lab and to assess if the lab would be a good fit.
Postdoc Contact: Kyoko Yoshida (email@example.com)
Step One: Contact Dr. Holmes and the postdoc contact expressing interest in the lab and to assess if the lab would be a good fit. Step Two: Come to a lab meeting. Step Three: Shadow a grad student/postdoc for a semester. Step Four: Talk about available projects with grad students.
Step One: Contact the graduate contact person with what you’re interested in working on and they’ll see if it’s a good fit. Step Two: Keep in contact. Step Three: Come to a lab meeting (Friday’s @9am) or meet with someone from the lab.
Faculty Contact: Dr. Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Step One: Email Dr. Kelly expressing interest in lab. Step Two: Send CV/resume to Dr. Kelly and a paragraph of why you're interested in the lab. Step Three: Meet with Dr. Kelly to talk about next steps.
Step One: Email Dr. Papin (email@example.com) and graduate contact to get matched to graduate student in the lab. Step Two: Come to a lab meeting/read papers for a semester. Step Three: If the lab is a good fit, discuss joining.
Step One: Email Dr. Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) and grad contact to figure out if there are available projects to work on. Step Two: Be in contact with graduate contact to attend a lab meeting and figure out how to get started; read papers. Step Three: Shadow a graduate student in the lab; learn how to work independently in the lab
Step One: Email graduate contact to express interest in the lab. Step Two: Meet in the lab to discuss what they do and see if that is interesting to you. Step Three: Contact Dr. Rohde to discuss joining the lab.