Once you find a research lab or project that is interesting to you (we detail how to do this in our below research series blog posts for info on Finding Research and Types of Research), you can send them an email containing a cover letter, resume, and your schedule.Make sure to state what you are hoping to get out of the lab before committing. Setting the expectations for what you would like your role to be can ensure that you are doing work that you want to do. Be sure to investigate the literature and written work of the labs you hope to be joining before committing. Understanding the research they do can help you to gain a better idea of what your role may be in the lab as a whole. Many UMich labs also have a website that would be helpful for you to look at because it will contain all the different projects and research questions the lab is pursuing as well as possible contact information. The following flowchart will give you a better idea of the hierarchies in many labs:
“Figure out which settings are the best fit for you and which subject matters you’re most interested in. … While med schools like to see consistency, they also want you to be able to talk about (and continue to research!) topics you are genuinely invested in.”
Welcome to part two of our research blog series! There are many different areas or topics of research that you could get involved with, but in the end, it’s all up to YOU; figure out which settings are the best fit for you and which subject matters you’re most interested in. This might take some trial and error, and you may even find yourself leaving one lab in favor of another. While med schools like to see consistency, they also want you to be able to talk about (and continue to research!) topics you are genuinely invested in – if one lab doesn’t work out, don’t force yourself to stay in it for the sake of continuity.
Below, you will find a summary of different areas where you could get involved. Feel free to go to the department websites for these subjects, peruse the professors’ descriptions of their research, and pick out ones where you think you could learn and contribute. Then, send off your email expressing your interest!
Benchwork or wet labs involve a lot of hands-on biology and chemistry; you better get those pipetting skills ready! This type of research can range from making and running gels to washing and imaging membranes. However, different departments do this differently:
- Lab stuff (think PCR, electrophoresis, chromatography, etc)
- Cell/molecular bio/histology
- Stem cell research, etc
- Animal research
- Lot of animal husbandry jobs (paying!) available for undergrads like working with worms/mice/fish/sheep/pigs, etc to study larger-scale biology. Require a lot of training for safety and animal welfare upfront. You will also probably transition from first only working with the animals (like husbandry and data collection) to data analysis as you get more experienced in the lab. Although getting into animal research is often time consuming, the skills you learn will be very valuable and can make you a better candidate for future animal research positions.
- Device fabrication and design
- Device making is a constantly evolving and growing area of research. Professors in the the Engineering College are likely the best people to contact if you are interested in getting involved with device fabrication and design. Devices range from artificial organs to stents, and even to prosthetics, and all of these areas and more need diligent and creative students.
- Artificial organs
- Measuring metrics of health
- Ergonomic modification
- Tissue Engineering
- Tumor detoectores
- Device fabrication and design
A bunch of different departments employ undergrads. A lot of these are interview or data analysis based. This is a good option for undergrads who hate working in a dingy basement lab with chemicals/cells but still want to get involved in research. Med schools want to see that undergrads understand the scientific method: forming a hypothesis, controlling variables, finding results, and determining significance – not necessarily that they are good at loading gels or specific hard science stuff. Any type of research is good!
- Psych: Social/Cognitive/Bio or Neuro/Developmental/Psychopathology: Many labs have opportunities for undergrad students to have a large role in the study, and not just doing busy work. The lab I (Madeline) am a part of is the largest longitudinal study in the country and I work with children and their parents every day as one of the study facilitators. Psych research is a rewarding field because a lot of the time it is more hands-on and interactive than a lot of the biology and chem labs on campus. Many of the psych labs are volunteer only, and take volunteers through Volunteer Services.
- Women’s Studies: There’s a lot of cool ones that look at gender disparities in psych of developing children/adolescents or in finding careers/glass ceiling and stuff. Sexual harassment in professional fields research, etc.
- Sociology: health policy (like Obamacare), wealth-health disparities
- Public Health
- Public Policy: I have a friend who analyzes tweets by Trump and other politicians and the vocabulary they use at the school of info to make conclusions about politics and comparative government stuff
Clinical research often takes place in a hospital or clinic. Different types include:
- Patient education based (shorter term and often easier to get published if not a longitudinal project): often run by undergrads, can give you a lot of patient contact hours, use surveys/interviews to measure data. Minimally invasive so undergrads are able to get super involved (except in the case of higher risk populations like children or PTSD/psych patients). I (Pooja) did this through Kellogg Eye Center showing monocular patients (lost one eye through surgery, trauma, or birth defect) educational videos about safety glasses to protect their one remaining eye and measured compliance through surveys at following visits.
- New medication/device based (harder to get started and get IRB approval): often only run by pharmacists/physicians so harder to get involved with as an undergrad. More risky for study participants/patients so they don’t let undergrads run it.
- Screening/epidemiology based: involves a lot of going through charts and data sheets, lot of opportunities for undergrads, involves a lot of stats to look at the data (not too much direct patient involvement but also easier to publish papers and study large-scale patterns in patient demographics). School of info, school of pharmacy, school of public health do a lot of this so you can contact professors from those departments. I (Pooja) did this through the Kellogg Eye Center looking at different skin/eye tumor types that were found in patients based on past chart data. I know there are projects that analyze x-ray or CAT scan data at the med school too.
You could also do a thesis within your major, typically during your senior year. This is a great opportunity to get a really in-depth look at research that you are personally invested in and, by the end, you’ll have a solid piece of work that you can show to medical schools.
Good luck in your search to find the perfect research project for you!
Many students are drawn to participate in a research project in some form during their undergraduate career, whether it be bench work, clinical research, laboratory tests, etc. It is an invaluable way to learn more about a field of study that you’re interested in while directly participating in active data collection. There is no shortage of opportunities available to undergraduates of all levels at U of M; the issue, therefore, becomes finding the best research project for your interests, availability, and form of compensation. In this upcoming series of blogs, we will cover each of these topics.
There are a couple of ways on campus you can get involved with research. Many departments list laboratories and their staff along with contact information on their departmental websites or hang flyers in academic buildings to recruit student involvement. There is no harm in emailing those overseeing a project to inquire about potential research involvement, and it’s usually best to send a succinct, professional note for this purpose, as the individuals running these projects can often be very busy. If they have openings, project managers will typically direct you to whom you can send your cover letter and resume. If they are fully staffed, they may graciously offer to send these documents to other researchers in similar areas of study.
Another way is UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program). UROP is a full-year program dedicated to guaranteeing undergraduates a research opportunity in their first few years of college. The application comes out around February if you are interested in applying, and there are three different ways you can participate: first years apply to the general UROP, second years apply to Research Scholars through UROP, and transfer sophomores or juniors apply to Changing Gears. Once you are accepted, you must commit to 6-12 hours a week spent on research, depending on how many credits you are looking to receive on your transcript. If you are eligible for work-study, you can get paid for doing research through UROP and decide how many hours you would like to do. UROP also requires you to attend weekly seminars that investigate a series of topics relating to research (e.g. networking, cover letter, resume, research ethics) and a final presentation at the UROP symposium about your research.
Another great source of information comes from your classes: study group leaders, peers in your classes, TAs, GSIs, lecturers, and professors alike are all great people to ask about research in a particular field of study. Oftentimes, GSIs will introduce themselves during your first session by explaining what research they conduct and invite students to ask them about it outside of class. This is not only a great way to find research, but it’s also a great connection to make in your professional network. Similarly, attending your instructor’s office hours and inquiring about research in the subject on campus can give you insight into the broad range of positions available in your area of interest, and your instructor can potentially vouch for you to a colleague.
Instead of UROP, you can find your own independent research project. This can allow you to avoid the additional assignments that UROP requires. Allows you to work in a lab that is relevant to your field of study. To begin searching for research go to your department’s website and click on the research tab and then select find Principal Investigators.
Can also find research positions on the University of Michigan Student Employment website
Students can find information about research laboratories on campus from a variety of sources.
Hello, Dr. [PROFESSOR’S LAST NAME],
My name is [YOUR NAME] and I am a [YEAR] at the University of Michigan for the 2018-19 school year. I would like to apply for the research assistant position at [LOCATION OR DEPARTMENT].
I am interested in this position because [REASONS FOR INTEREST]. From my previous research and leadership experience, I have [TALK ABOUT YOUR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES AND THE SKILLS YOU HAVE GAINED].
I have attached my resume to this email [MAKE SURE YOU DO THIS], and will be able to start working [TIME FRAME].
I look forward to hearing from you soon! Please let me know if you have any additional questions.
Thank you very much for your consideration,
Good luck with your search, and stay tuned for our next post, where we will discuss different research environments and topics!
“Oftentimes, GSIs will introduce themselves during your first session by explaining what research they conduct and invite students to ask them about it outside of class. This is not only a great way to find research, but it’s also a great connection to make in your professional network.”