Getting Involved: High School & Undergraduate Research

If you are a high school or undergraduate student interested in a summer research position, now is the time to start looking! Yes, it may seem too early to be thinking about summer, but ideally this is the time to start your search. For most research laboratories, summer studentships are secured quickly in preparation for the granting season (which falls between January-February)—an important means for additional stipend support. More importantly, the earlier you find your research lab, the more time you will have to familiarize yourself to the lab environment, to get to know lab personnel, and of course better understand your research project!

Before starting your search, ensure that you have on file, an updated curriculum vitae (CV) outlining your academic history, experiences, and achievements, and, your most up-to-date transcript. It is important to have these documents prepared so that you may send these to your prospective Principle Investigator (PI). Ensure that there are no spelling errors and grammatical mistakes on your CV!

Begin your Search!

The best way to find a laboratory  is to first think about what you would like to learn. There are many areas of research and many labs to choose from! Therefore, whether it be a particular concept or technique, take the time to consider your interests.

Next, search each university department website to locate any open positions within the department. Some departments post available summer research positions in late October. If none are posted, read up on each investigator’s research on their home page. Focus your searches by asking yourself “What is it about this particular lab that interests me? What aspect of the research is most striking?’ These are important questions as they will factor into the cover letter you will be writing to the PI.

Once you narrowed down your search, contact the PI and outline your request and interest to volunteer/work as a research apprentice for the summer. If you have any previous laboratory experience, list the techniques that you are familiar or have experience with, even those techniques you learned during your lab course work. This will be helpful in establishing a baseline for the prospective PI. Moreover, emphasize why the research is interesting to you. Last but not least, request a meeting. This is the best way to officially introduce yourself, meet the PI, and get a feel for the lab. It is essential to be professional in your letter writing and also ideal to keep the letter concise and to the point. Once you have completed the letter, remember to attach your CV and transcript. Send the cover letter.

Now you wait. Good Luck!

For those of you in high school, there are opportunities in place for you to apply to research positions through highly recommended summer research programs. For example, in Alberta, there are WISEST and HYRS [Side note! Check out YASN for the most up-to-date listings for research and scholarship/award deadlines]. These programs are a great way for you to get into the research scene early, and develop your project throughout your high school and possibly your university career. Sticking with your project over the years can lead to many great opportunities! First (with permission and support from your laboratory) you may enter into regional, provincial, national, and international science fairs and competitions! Second, there are opportunities for publication! Last but not least, the time that you invest will be invaluable to your growth as a scientist. Hands on experience and real world application of science concepts brings new context to learning. So! Start now!  Start your search!

Need more guidance and advice? You can contact a mentor at YASN to ask how they got involved in research and how they can help you get started.

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