Getting Started

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Sorry this entry is a few days late.  Thesis draft deadline was yesterday, so I was a little bit busy over the weekend.

When the College of Science people asked me to do this blog, they said that one of their goals was to help get more undergrads into research.  With that in mind, I thought I'd do a post about how to get started doing research.  Or at least how I did it.  I can't promise everyone else will have the same experience, but this should at least be a good jumping off point.

So I'm sure you've already been told to death that it's a good idea to join a research group as soon as possible.  But how do you actually do that?  Its simpler than you might think:  Just talk to a professor and ask if you can join their group.  I know when you're a freshman or sophomore talking to a professor can seem very intimidating, but trust me, they're nicer than they seem.  Send them an email.  Be polite, tell them you're interested in their research, and ask them if they have a project you could work on for them.  Attach a CV if you have one (Make a CV if you don't have one, then attach it).  The worst that'll happen is they'll say no, and then you just talk to someone else. 

But how do you pick who to talk to?  Well, to be honest, if you're just starting out as a freshman and you have no experience and very few classes, you want to have lots of options.  Since I live near Baltimore, I wanted to do some research at Johns Hopkins University the summer after my freshman year.  I contacted basically everyone at the university who I would be remotely interested in working for.  Dr. Cammarata emailed me back, and even though materials science isn't really my main interest, I ended up spending two summers working for him.

If you have a bit of experience under your belt, then you can start looking for something a little more long term.  You probably want to try to find something you're more interested in at this point.  Most departments have a page like this:


where you can go to find which professors are doing work that interests you.  You might also try asking your academic adviser for suggestions.  (Hint for Penn State physicists: Dr. Robinett is really good at this sort of thing).  Career Services is another good option.  Once you've found an interesting group, do the same thing as before.  Send the professor an email etc. etc.

Usually (at least the two times I've done it), if a professor thinks they have a project for you, they'll set up a meeting with you.  This can be pretty scary, but try not to let it freak you out too much.  Just go and be honest.  If you don't know something, don't feel bad.  You're an undergrad, you're not expected to be knowledgeable from the start.  It is important to be eager to learn.  If that goes well, you'll probably be handed a stack of paperwork and you'll get to start working.

Hope this helps a bit.  Go out and start sending some emails.

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