The first thing you need to do is to find a research mentor to work with. The best way to do this is to spend time going through faculty web pages to identify a list of researchers that you are interested in talking to. To help you with your search, after you have read this page, go to the website at the bottom to begin your search. Type in the area you are thinking about working in to identify UA researchers in that area. Don’t be too narrow as the best first research position is the one that will take you! Also, don’t be too broad. Instead of searching biology, try to figure out what part of the field is of interest to you. You do not have to look only in your home department. Look in the department that you are hoping to go into in graduate school, professional school, or are just interested in.
Make a list of at least 10 potential mentors, along with the office locations (a departmental secretary can be of great help with this if locations are not on the web page). They will also know if someone is on sabbatical or otherwise not reachable). Identify your top three, and read at least one recent research paper the faculty member has published in the past year. If you cannot access a paper you are interested in, ask a reference librarian to assist you – they can show you how to access papers at no cost.
Now that you have your list and have read the papers, you should go to the faculty member’s office to ask for an appointment to come back and talk about potential research projects. Faculty get hundreds of emails a day and if you email, it may get lost in the shuffle! A personal approach is always the best. Do not assume the faculty member is free at that time; you are there to make an appointment at their convenience. Make sure that even though you are only asking for an appointment, you have read a paper of theirs just in case you get invited in. Don’t go unprepared. Take an unofficial transcript in case they want to see what courses you have had, as well as a resume that shows that you are a hard worker, and a copy of your course schedule for the semester you are inquiring about.
When you have the appointment, be prepared to answer the question “Why do you want to do research on my project?” You won’t be able to answer this with out having read a paper or two and giving it some thought. What is it about this particular project that interested you? What can you offer – hard work, willingness to be as helpful as possible, etc.. Also, know up front how many hours you can contribute to the research – 8-10 hours a week? What days, blocks of time?
There are many reasons why someone you have selected may say no to your request. That is why you have 10 people on your list. If you get 9 no’s, knock on the 10th door. If you get 10 nos, make an appointment with Drs. Bissell or Bolland, and we will help you with your search.
Be polite, persistent, and passionate!
Submit your research opportunity to UA’s faculty research database (www.facultyresearchdatabase.ua.edu), which will allow all students with a crimson account to search and apply to be a part of your research project or team.