There MUST be some way for me to do student research ...
September 28, 2009 8:23 PM   Subscribe

My college's biological sciences dept has run out of student internship/research positions. The professors have emailed me back, saying that they might have openings in the spring. But I want to do something now. What are my other options? I'm in Los Angeles.

The career center doesn't have any external biology, microbiology, biochem internships listed, either. I'm pretty sure I won't be able to get a position at a college I don't attend - after all, their priorities are their own students. Searching online comes up with jobs that requires me to have my bachelor's degree ... which I don't have yet. Am I doomed to have a weak resume?
posted by Xere to Education (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The National Science Foundation sponsors the "Research Experince for Undergraduates (REU)" program. Here's the website for the program. It's certainly too late to plan this for "right now," but "right now" is the right time to start lining up something for the summer. And a good summer in the lab will look great on your CV.
posted by u2604ab at 8:37 PM on September 28, 2009

My first PI told me that she is always lukewarm to email queries about student research. If they wanted to do it, they could at least walk over here and see what we do. You may want to read a couple of papers from the labs your interested in, and go down there and be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in person.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:41 PM on September 28, 2009

My initial post was terse: REU sponsored sites basically offer paid internships to do summer research in an academic lab. The advice here is to look at the list of REU sites and subjects, and contact the ones that look good to you (both in terms of geography and subject material) and apply directly to the site.
posted by u2604ab at 8:42 PM on September 28, 2009

First, "now" is always going to be hard in the world of work and study. If it's worth having, it takes time.

Second, the jobs you see listed online (with your school, and even more with companies and aggregators) are only the most visible of what actually exists. They are the easiest to find, and fastest to disappear (some were filled before they got online).

Third, and what you asked most directly for, were new places to look. Maybe you've been to some of them, since some are extensions of what you are doing:
- University alumni office/database: contact local alums in LA, in or related to your field. This may happen through an office, or you may have access to a database. Your school may even have a place for alumni to specifically indicate if they are willing to host interns like you
- Go back to your academic adviser and others you approached. HE/THEY may not have a position, but may KNOW SOMEONE who does. That is ALWAYS the follow-up question on a rejection: do you know anyone else I should talk to?
- Who exactly did you approach? If they were only in your department, look outside to the multi-disciplinary programs. Was it only professors who posted openings? Go back to the department listings and contact those who are doing work you like.
- Since you are in bio, have you considered some of the research centers/hospitals around you? Again you may need an adviser or other way to get a first contact, rather than an online database.
- What is your desired outcome? Is it skills, or funds? The options at your university may become more flexible if you can consider doing this work for credit instead of pay.
- Are you only interested in research? Technical jobs, especially bio-anything, often require experience in tangential fields ranging from business and sales to policy and teaching. If your long-term career interests are not solely research-focused, this may be a good time to consider what additional skillsets you can strengthen.

(Chemical engineer, been there, done that.)
posted by whatzit at 8:45 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Based on my experience:

-Have you tried emailing professors who haven't posted jobs? Particularly if you're willing to work as a volunteer or as a student earning credit, or if you can find external funding (from your university or elsewhere), there are plenty of professors who would be willing to take a student but who are not actively advertising. (Yes, at least reading the intros of some of their papers so that you can show some interest in their specific research - and preferably in a specific project - is a necessary step here.)

-Have you tried emailing professors at other universities in the area? My younger sibling and I both worked in two labs each before we hit college; if labs will take high school students, they will be willing to take unaffiliated college students, if there's a good reason. Definitely, students from their own university have an advantage, but you still have a chance. You may have better luck at a school that is partially affiliated with your school, or one that at least has an established cross-registration program.

-Have you looked outside of your department? You say you're biological sciences, but I promise you that there are professors in the chemistry, chemical engineering, biological engineering, neuroscience/pyschology, civil and environmental engineering, and possibly archaeology and materials sciences departments who are doing bio-related research.

-Have you asked your advisor and/or previous PIs for advice? I've found a good half of my lab positions this way.

-Have you checked out local hospitals, biotech companies, and research institutes? There are bio labs in all of these places. And no, they don't necessarily require you to have a B.A. or S.B.: again, you're not applying for a research tech position (the positions you are seeing advertised), you're looking for an internship or volunteer position.

As long as you are willing to do work for each lab you talk to (that is, at least scan a few of the most recent papers and have an idea of which projects you are interested in working in, and why), I promise that you will be able to eventually find a space. Professors like intelligent, eager students; you are not doomed to have a weak resume unless you choose to.
posted by ubersturm at 9:08 PM on September 28, 2009

As ubersturm said, check out some local companies. They are always looking for lab lackeys, I mean, uh, interns. Amgen might be a little far for you (Thousand Oaks) but a good option. If you can live in ventura for a little, there are a few companies out here, like LifeTech, (where I work) Baxter, and Dako, as well as a IVD startup. (I keep forgetting the name, my former boss works there now) Bonus is, at a biotech company, internships are generally paid, and at your level, will certainly be just as stimulating as an academic internship. Even if there are no internships posted, try sending a resume or two to the R&D departments. Large companies are always looking for young, motivated people who are willing to work way too hard. Good luck!
posted by wuzandfuzz at 10:57 PM on September 28, 2009

Do you have a car? You should definitely try other universities in the area. Be aggressive in your emailing; look around at all possible departments (including in the medical and engineering schools). Your chances of getting paid for lab work at this point are slim-to-none, but if you want to do unpaid work in someone's lab, you probably have better than 50-50 odds. Move fast. Caltech and UCLA are both starting classes like next week; USC has already been going a month.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:07 PM on September 28, 2009

I wasn't clear from your question, but have you looked at jobs in the bio department that are not student research/internship funded? Our lab (at a university on the other side of the country) is pretty much always hiring undergrads. Mostly they wash dishes, weigh things, and pipette, but the students who are conscientious, work hard, and can follow directions gain responsibilities and skills as they go along.

More importantly, students who did well as dish washers are always our first choice for researchers since they already know our lab and we already know that they're good. It is very hard for students who email my advisor out of the blue to ask about research to compete against those students we already know.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:35 AM on September 29, 2009

Check again in a couple of weeks. There are always undergrads who end up not working out (too much coursework, realize they don't enjoy research, personal problems and so on.). This should happen about the same time they get their first exam back.

Nth the idea that if financially feasible, you should do work for class credit or work study if you're eligible.

Another place to get an in while you wait for the position of your dreams is in a core facility. Stockrooms, sequencing, microscopy, animals, and so on all need people to do work.

Nthing the idea that you show up at particular professors' doors. You should be selective, choose people you're really interested in working for, and do your homework: look up what they do and tell them that you think what they do is cool.

Also, you don't have to do things this semester, just get someone to commit to next semester.

If you are premed, try to avoid discussing that too much.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:49 AM on September 29, 2009

Definitely ask around, in person like someone else mentioned. Your professors and your TAs particularly, and other researchers who have posted offers but claim to be full. Labs are always looking for free labor, especially biology labs, which in my experience are under-funded and often chock-full of undergrads who start out researching, realize that they're "too good" to be washing glassware and feeding zebrafish, and quit in the middle. You've just got to realize that especially with biology, you're going to have to suck it up and be unpaid for a while, and work hard your whole way all the way up the research ladder. In fact, I've seen more than my fair share of ads around the bio building asking for students to devote their entire summer collecting scat in 100+ degree weather. Housing costs the student money, transportation NOT provided. (That's right...research YOU'RE losing money to do!)

I started cleaning tanks and feeding fish. The grad student I was working with saw how hard I was working and within a year I was doing her phenotype work and getting funded with undergrad fellowships. Within two years I was running genetic samples, writing proposals, and training all the new students, still getting funded independently. I didn't even have to ask for the money, the grad student took care of all the funding requests. My point being, there is always a way, and hard work doesn't go unnoticed.
posted by problemcat at 9:31 PM on September 29, 2009

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