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How to Secure a Research Position

Hi everyone! My name is Breanna, I am in my second year of Honours Life Sciences, and I am the Second Year Representative for this year's Life Science Society!


As we approach the winter break, many students may be looking into various research areas they want to pursue during the summer. As reiterated to students across multiple situations, McMaster is one of Canada's most research-intensive institutes; we take great pride in this. Thus, it is no surprise that research positions may be difficult to find since everyone wants them. Furthermore, it can often feel overwhelming and nerve-racking to begin this process due to our lack of knowledge about achieving a research position. However, professors are humans like you and me. With these simple tips and tricks, landing your dream position may be more straightforward than it appears to be!


Tip #1 - Keep your email concise

As someone who enjoys writing emails as much as essays, I've discovered that keeping your email short and concise can benefit both you and the recipients. This also eliminates the possibility of miscommunication and ambiguity. Getting direct to the point emphasizes your email and may leave a lasting impression. My advice for a brief email is to be mindful of your goal and ensure it is thoroughly communicated throughout your email. Being conscious of your choice of words to help illustrate the message you are attempting to convey. In order to hook your reader, create a subject line that summarizes but is also personal. However, the tone of your email is also important when networking and connecting with the addressee. Greeting and closing with the person you are emailing creates a personalized connection and changes the tone of the email. These small helpful hints can add up to a short email that will aid in the establishment of a connection and message!


Tip #2 - Show genuine interest in their research

Professors truly look for students with a genuine interest in their research. They want to see that you've taken the time to read through their research and understand what exactly they are studying. Of the numerous times I listened to professors speak about what they look for in an undergraduate student, genuine interest always came up. When emailing professors, they always look for expressed interest in their work and how getting involved can further your academic career. They prefer to take on students who have done their due diligence to dive into their work and understand how they can contribute. As I mentioned before, professors are human, just like us. Thus, by personalizing your conversations with professors to include genuine enthusiasm concerning their areas of study, you will be one step closer to securing a research position with them.


Tip #3 - Foster a connection with professors through events and courses

Networking is beneficial to help create opportunities for us in the future and help students foster a relationship with the professors we hope to research under. Creating a professional relationship with professors we hope to secure a research position with could potentially lead to this happening. In addition, forming relationships opens the door to others knowing us personally, which can set us apart. You may have heard that students from smaller programs find it easier to create relationships with their professors and find research positions under them. However, it can be easy for Life Science students, too, as long as we are willing to put ourselves out there. Some ways to foster connections are attending office hours, taking their courses, and attending events such as LSS's annual Meet the Prof!


Tip #4 - Be persistent

Persistence in their research demonstrates a willingness to support their research. Being persistent entails sending follow-up emails and opting for other options. Persistence, however, should include allowing time for the individual to respond via email, as they may have a busy schedule. Follow-up is an excellent way to demonstrate your work ethic and perseverance. It also reinforces your initial message and serves as a subtle reminder if no response is received. It helps to clarify your message, eliminate misunderstandings, and strengthen your message. Seeking alternative research lets you explore your interests and discover new ones. Exploring different fields will diversify your knowledge and maybe rewarding. Seek out opportunities and be persistent to make your research exploration more enjoyable. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable!


Hopefully, these tips can help you secure your dream position in whichever research lab your heart desires! The sooner you begin reaching out for research positions, the better. I know this is what I’ll be doing once my exams are over.


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