How (NOT) to Get Involved in Research: Part 2 (Interview)

We are back with Part 2 of the series, How (NOT) to Get Involved in Research!  After the initial round of emails, maybe now you have a meeting or an interview with a lab member or the professor of the lab you are interested in joining (for some tips on how to send those emails, check out Part 1).  In addition to fielding emails from interested undergrads, I also conduct the first round of interviews for our lab.  Although each lab is different, keep reading for some general tips and one insider’s perspective on how to shine in these first meetings!

Before the meeting:

  • Do research on the research.  This is absolutely essential.  Almost all labs have a research group website with information about lab members, recent publications, facilities, alumni, and more.  Also, some labs require certain prerequisiste classes or other requirements before joining, so look for that information (if available) as well.  I cannot emphasize this point enough.  Read some of the group’s published journal articles in order to have a better understanding of their research.  You probably will not understand all (or most) of the research, but that is okay.  It is still important that you try to gain a broad understanding of the lab’s particular research interests and the research area in general.
  • Respond promptly and professionally to all emails.  If you are not replying in a timely manner, you are communicating that this research opportunity is not a priority for you.  You should be responding to all emails within one business day (if not faster), especially when trying to schedule a meeting.

For the meeting:

  • Dress appropriately.  Although this does not have to be business professional (especially if you are told it is an informal interview), still dress to show you are serious (i.e. not a tshirt and athletic shorts).  Also, especially if it is an in-person meeting, wear long pants and closed-toe shoes in case the professor wants to give you a tour of the lab.
  • Listen.  These meetings are often less about what you actually say and more about how you conduct yourself.  Are you thoughtful?  Genuinely interested?  Curious?  Prepared?  Just looking for something to add to your resume?  Remember, the professor is looking for someone who not only can do research but will fit in well with the lab and be a good team member.
  • Be honest.  Do not exaggerate your experience or misrepresent yourself and your accomplishments.  It is better to be humble, teachable, and willing to learn than arrogant and dishonest.  Regardless of your past research experience (if any), each lab is different, and there is always a learning curve.
  • Have good questions.  Your questions do not have to be research specific, but they should be genuine and natural, depending on the conversation.  You might ask about the role of undergraduates in the group, expected time commitment, responsibilities, current projects, and mentors.

After the meeting:

  • Send a thank you email.  This email does not have to be long, but be sincere, specific, and grateful for their time and willingness to meet with you.
  • Follow instructions.  If you are told to be patient because there are many candidates also applying, then wait and do not bother them.  If you need to attend group meeting, a seminar, or start lab safety training, then start working on those tasks.


I hope this is helpful, and happy researching!



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