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What is research?

  • Undergraduate research is defined by the Council on Undergraduate Research as “an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original, intellectual, or creative contribution to the discipline.”
  • Research is experimentation, answering questions, analysis, exploration, inquiry, investigation, creation, study, examination, reasoning, imagining, composing, designing, formulating, establishing, interpreting… the list of synonyms goes on and on!
  • Research takes place in labs, in libraries and research centers, in the field, in communities, in studios, in space, on land, underwater, on your computer, in your head, and beyond.
  • Research at Hopkins is more than just checking a box on your resume/ CV or filling a requirement for your major.

What’s in it for you?

  • Explore your curiosity and make impactful discoveries, changes or improvements to an issue or problem;
  • Create or design something new – a film, product, company, program, a (insert your idea);
  • Grow as an independent and critical thinker;
  • Advance your analytical and problem-solving skills;
  • Apply concepts learned in class to simulated or real-life situations.
  • Increase your skill and knowledge of cutting edge equipment and techniques;
  • Expanding your network through collaborations;
  • Strengthen written, visual and oral communication skills.

Brainstorm

Consider details

Find mentors

CONSIDER when it makes the most sense for YOU to begin a research opportunity.

  • Jump right in as a freshman or wait until later in your undergraduate career.
  • Limit your research commitment to breaks when you have no classes (summer, winter, etc).
  • Schedule your research around classes (obviously), sports, part-time jobs, or other commitments.
  • Research for a semester (although for many areas, a year minimum is more beneficial).
  • Participate in one opportunity or try different projects over your undergraduate career as your interests evolve.

CREATE a list of topics or areas that pique your curiosity (no matter how obscure they may seem). Include a few key words for each. These should be things that fascinate you, areas you feel driven to explore, problems you want to solve, or something mentioned in a class that you want to gain a deeper knowledge of!


The more excited you are about a topic, the more successful you will be!


SEARCH for researchers with similar interests and/ or open opportunities:

  • Use    and a search engine to narrow your search.
  • Always use ‘Hopkins’ or ‘JHU’ and ‘research’ along with your key words to refine your results when using a search engine.
  • Check out relevant department, research, lab or faculty websites.
  • Network with your friends and classmates.
  • Speak with your professors, TAs, advisors, departments, and research librarians.
  • Look for posted open positions on ForagerOne, Handshake, and Student Employment.
  • You can also find opportunities through Study Abroad, the Center for Social Concern and other Hopkins departments and offices.

THINK about your requirements.


It is up to YOU to find the balance that fits your life.


  • How many hours can you commit per week, balancing your other obligations (inc. classes, activities, sports, jobs, study time, relaxation)?
  • Are there days you cannot research because of other obligations?
  • Are you able to research on another campus (keep in mind travel time)?
  • Can you research for experience (volunteer) or do you need academic credit or pay?
    • Most undergraduates volunteer for research just to gain experience.
    • HOUR does NOT grant academic credit for research. We will help you find opportunities, but you must get approval from your advisor for the project to qualify for academic credit. The opportunity must meet specific and unique program/ major requirements.
    • In some cases you can be paid or even have your research position count as your federal work study job. These are not as common.
    • The average undergraduate participates in research for 8 – 10 hours per week during the academic year or full time over breaks (summer, winter, intersession) pursuing experiential opportunities.

Create a shortlist

Contact mentors

Follow up

REVIEW your list, prioritizing your strongest interest areas to contact first.


Did you know you can find faculty email addresses at my.jh.edu?
Log in and enter the name in the search box at the top right.


CONTACT the faculty member or researcher in person or by email.

Hint: You are a colleague of even the most “elite” faculty member. You may be a junior colleague, but you are a colleague!

  • In person – Drop by their office or lab and ask if they (or someone in their group) has time to speak with you. If not, send an email. Note: This is only applicable for Homewood based contacts. Have a scheduled appointment for all interactions on other campuses. This saves you time and stress as other campuses have different security protocols and faculty often have offices, labs, and departments in different buildings making them a challenge to randomly track down!
  • By Email – Do NOT send a form email (*sort of)!
    • Always use your JHU email address. This legitimizes your inquiry and shows professionalism.
    • Always BCC yourself. This allows for easier follow up later.
    • Keep your email brief. It should not read longer than a single screen on a smart phone. If they need to scroll, they mostly likely will not read the email at all.
    • Do not send your resume/ CV or other documents on the initial contact email. You just want to get your foot in the door!
    • Paragraph 1: Introduce yourself (name, class, major)
    • Paragraph 2: *this is the section that is different for each contact: In a couple sentences, briefly mention something in their research that interests you or specific topics/ areas you are interested in. Do not be afraid to ‘stroke their ego’ a little. Everyone likes to hear how great they are!
    • Paragraph 3: Request a meeting to learn about research opportunities. Offer to send reference documents for their review (resume/CV, recommendations, personal statement, transcript as applicable). Thank them for their time.

FOLLOW UP if you do not receive a response within 3 – 4 days.

  • Faculty receive hundreds of emails per day and have many other obligations. A lack of response is not a personal slight.
  • Polite persistence is key. You are not stalking or harassing and you will not get blocked; you are professionally following up.
  • Send follow-up emails – just reply all to the email copy now in your inbox (from BCCing). “I am following up on my previous email, below, regarding…” or “I am following up on my email of October 5th…”
  • These follow-up emails can be sent every 3-4 days if you have not received a response.
  • You can keep sending follow-up emails 3, 4, 5 times (until you feel you are done trying)
  • If you are unsuccessful in getting a response you can:
    • Email a final email asking if there is someone else in their group you could speak to (a post doc or grad student) or for a referral to a colleague doing similar research.
    • Find a lab or research group page and contact a postdoc or grad student with your inquiry, letting them know you have tried to contact the mentor with no success. Ask them if they have time to discuss opportunities.

Be punctual

Ask questions

Thank them

BE PROFESSIONAL and polite in ALL interactions. Arrive on time, neatly dressed and prepared.

PREPARE – Ask if there is anything you should review in advance of your meeting. Review their research so you are ready to discuss projects. Have any requested documents ready to bring or send for review.

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS

  • Be upfront with your expectations (time commitment and availability, compensation, goals)
  • Ask about their expectations:
    • Are there any trainings, classes, or readings to complete prior to starting?
    • Are their lab, group, or journal club meetings you are expected to attend?
    • Will you be required to present on your project at a group or lab meeting, write a paper at the end of the semester, or create a poster and present at an event?
  • Address conflicts:
    • If you have class or other conflicts during days/ times they expect you to be present, discuss them during interview to see if there is a compromise.
    • If there is no compromise, thank them when declining and ask for a referral to a colleague doing similar research.

THANK THEM for considering you whether you are selected or not.

  • If you are not selected, ask them if they have other colleagues they could refer you to.
  • If you are offered a position and like the opportunity – CONGRATULATIONS!

BAD experiences happen. Not every opportunity is beneficial. The good news is you are not stuck. There are so many researchers across the university, you can leave an opportunity and move on. If you are researching for credit, you just have to get through that semester and you can move on.

NEVER ghost!

 There are many reasons why an opportunity may not be working for you –

  • You are assigned menial tasks or ‘assembly line’ tasks that are not expanding your knowledge;
  • The research is not what you expected/ not useful toward your goals;
  • There is a personality conflict or the research group is not friendly and inclusive;
  • And others not mentioned.

What to do?

  • If the research is unsatisfying, have a conversation with your mentor or professor/ PI to discuss opportunities to grow, attain more skills, and achieve some independence. If the opportunity is just not there, thank them for the time they invested in you and let them know you will be withdrawing from the project.
  • If the research is not useful toward achieving your goals, have a conversation with your mentor or the professor/ PI about your goals and if this opportunity can grow into something better with commitment. If it can’t, thank them for the time they invested in you and ask if they can refer you to a colleague that better fits your interests.
  • If there is a personality conflict or uncomfortable atmosphere, you can try speaking with the professor/ PI if you are comfortable with them. Most likely you just want to get out! You conversation should then be with your mentor or the professor/ PI thanking them for the opportunity, telling them it not what you expected and you will be withdrawing from the opportunity to leave it for another student that might better benefit. (This might be a little fib, but you are not burning any bridges!)

Remember – If the problem cannot be resolved, always extract yourself politely and graciously (even if you are fibbing a little). You never want to burn a bridge. It will come back and bite you in the end!

  • Contact

    Email:
    HOUR@jhu.edu

    Virtual Office Hours:
    Monday-Friday, 3-4pm ET
    via Zoom

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