Summer 2019: Getting into STEM Research

Written By: Hana Gabrielle Bidon

Presenting my summer research at the Diversity Program Engineering's Research Symposium

Gaining research experience as an undergraduate student is a fulfilling experience. As an undergraduate research assistant, you can explore career interests, cultivate leadership skills, and develop specific skills related to your field by analyzing data and reviewing established literature. Research is also an excellent way to use your knowledge from classes in a real world setting and allows you to learn how to work independently on tasks that you are not sure how to execute.

After interviewing with several professors and a PhD student for research assistant positions, I chose to research at Cornell University’s Future Learning Lab, as it would allow me to work on developing an educational game that helps users build computational thinking skills.

Although I was ecstatic to work on an exciting and collaborative research project in the summer for the first time, I wondered what research would be like. Would I be wearing a lab coat while working in an official lab space like my sister, a chemical engineer? What would the hours be like?

Throughout my internship, I learned the answers to these questions and more - and now I’m ready to share them with you. Here’s how I learned how to land a research internship, get comfortable with not knowing where my research is heading, and gain hands-on experience with exploratory data analysis.

How to Contact Research Professors

To get into research, you must first find a research area that interests you. An excellent place to begin is your department’s website, which describes faculty interests and current research projects. After curating a list of faculty interests, you can narrow the number of professors you want to research with to about 8 to 12 professors.

To contact each professor, you can email them stating your interest in their research. Be sure to discuss, in detail, why you are interested in this professor’s research. Mention parts of their work and specific projects they’ve done that interest you. To check out their latest research projects, visit their personal website or Google Scholar page and browse through their latest papers.

Next, discuss the skills you have and how they are applicable to the position. Briefly talk about relevant coursework and projects by describing the tools and technologies that you used. Finally, state that you want to discuss this professor’s research further and learn more about what they do. Make sure to tailor your email for each professor and attach your resume so that they know what you are capable of.

I personally wrote customized emails to 11 professors and one PhD student because his research interests aligned with mine. In each email, I wrote about my interests in the person’s research and mentioned relevant side projects in addition to relevant coursework and my involvement with organizations, such as Cornell Minds Matter and Women in Computing at Cornell.