One of the misconceptions many have about undergraduate research is that you have to have taken a bunch of classes and be an upperclassman to even get a spot in a lab. I know this is what I thought when I first came to USC. I always knew that I wanted to do undergraduate research, but I never thought that I would be able to start my first year. This is completely not the case if you play your cards right and are proactive from the very beginning. My advice for anyone wanting to work in a lab is to get to know your professors and find out if they do any research that interests you. You never know, they might have a spot open, and inquiring about their work could land you that spot. Another awesome way to get your name out there is to go onto Viterbi’s website for your major and email the researchers or professors whose labs you are interested in. I was surprised when I went onto the BME website and saw how many labs USC actually has. Another valuable resource is the MyUSC homepage; it will also occasionally advertise open research, so it is helpful when first looking around.
Like any job or internship application process, you could apply to fifty labs, and only three will email you back, but one of those three might be your future workplace. When I was first applying to labs, I thought I had no chance of ever getting an email back based solely on the fact that I had no experience or skills. This was definitely not the case. The same night I emailed various researchers, I got a response back asking if I could come in for an interview the following day. The lab I interviewed for ended up being Dr. Shen’s Laboratory for Integrative Biosystems Engineering and the lab I currently work in. In the end, you never know what people are looking for, and it never hurts to reach out to professors or researchers early on in your academic career.
Research Link on Viterbi’s Site: http://viterbi.usc.edu/students/undergrad/research/getting-started.htm/
BME Research Website: http://bme.usc.edu/research/
Shen Lab Website: http://shenlab.usc.edu/