I came into college wanting to be a part of undergraduate research. Entering USC, I had no idea what it meant to do research. I was aiming to try something new and research appeared to be the perfect opportunity to move out of my comfort zone. As a freshman with little to no experience, I was able to secure a position in and it’s possible that you can too! Here’s how I did it:
At the beginning of fall semester there is a club fair, and at the fair I added my email to a bunch of newsletter lists for different clubs. One club I signed up for was the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. I had never been to a meeting, but they sent me an email about a Research Panel. I ended up going to the event, and walked into a nearly empty room with a panel of six other chemical engineers. I listened to them for around an hour and developed interests in some of their lab work. Then, at the end of the event they gave us a list of professors who were in need of new undergraduate researches. One lab caught my attention: hydrogen fuel cells. I emailed the professor immediately, and she responded the next day. She told me that as a freshman, I probably did not know enough to be a part of that project (she was right) but that she had another place for me studying ligands. I forwarded her my resume, came in for a quick meeting, and it was done! I was on a research team!
First semester, I was learning how to work the software that I needed to contribute to the team. I was participating in weekly meetings with the professor and a graduate student, and feeling like I was in way over my head. When second semester came around, I was ready to begin helping them. Although it was scary, they were willing to help me learn and anytime I had a question they were willing to answer it. I can’t speak for how other Viterbi students get into research, but my experience was one where a professor was excited to bring me on board.
Although my route to research was fairly lucky and straight forward, you may experience some bumps in the road. Professors are busy people! If they don’t respond, or they do respond and can’t accept you, do not be scared to keep on trying.