Get started in research

a student sits alone at a desk and looks into a microscope

1. Reflect: What am I looking for?

  • What skills and knowledge am I hoping to gain from a research experience?
  • What field(s) would I like to study?
  • Most labs require a minimum 6-hour commitment divided in 2-3 hour blocks. Do I have the time and energy to commit to research right now?

2. Find opportunities

Most research opportunities are not advertised. Students find positions by contacting researchers they would like to work with – usually by email.

  • Speak with your course professors, TAs or faculty advisor; they can have great advice about finding research opportunities and might know who is looking for students to join their research team.
  • Join CURB (Cornell Undergraduate Research Board).
  • Paid research opportunities may be found on the Student Employment website or by speaking with individual research mentors.
  • Make a list of researchers (including faculty, research associates) with whom you would like to work by conducting an online search. We recommend:
    • Viewing the OUB’s faculty research database
    • Searching websites of departments or institutes that are of interest. Scroll down for links to units on campus where biological sciences students often engage in research.

3. Contact potential research mentors

  • Before reaching out, read the researcher’s website or the abstract of one or more papers.
  • Send an introductory email expressing your interest in their research.
    • Start with a professional greeting (Dear Dr. or Professor X).
    • Introduce yourself with your name, class year and major.
    • Explain why you are interested in their research – be specific! Generic emails do not get much attention.
    • Share why you are a good fit for the lab by providing more information about yourself. Describe your experiences (non-research experiences are great!).
    • Emails should be concise; limit yourself to one to three paragraphs.
    • End with a question. Ask to meet to discuss their research or getting involved in their field.
  • Would you like feedback on a draft email? Meet with an OUB student advisor.

4. Meet with potential research mentors

Congrats on getting meetings with researchers! Now it’s time to prepare.

  • Make sure you can articulate why you’re interested in their work specifically and research in general. Practice saying it out loud.
  • Prepare a list of questions. These can be about research or the lab structure (e.g., what do undergrads do each day?). Only ask questions you’re sincerely curious about.
  • You do not need to understand technical details of their research or have read several of their papers.
  • Be prepared to talk about time commitment. Bring your schedule.
  • Aim not only to find a lab, but the right lab for you. Fit matters! Meet with several mentors if you can; finding the right mentor matters as much or more than the specific research project you will work on.

Resources for undergraduate researchers

Funding your research

Research funding can open the door to new opportunities: a summer research position, conference travel and the freedom to ask new, exciting questions. Search our database of grants and fellowships from Cornell and beyond that support undergraduate research by funding equipment and supplies, conference travel and salary or stipends. This list is not exclusive, and other opportunities may be available depending on your research area. Be sure to work with your research mentor when applying for grants.

Library guides

There are numerous opportunities at Cornell to develop your skills as a scientist outside the lab. This guide from the Cornell Libraries is designed for undergraduate researchers in biological sciences and offers advice on literature searching, citation management, data management and more.

Cornell Statistical Consulting Unit 

Discover how to analyze and manage datasets in workshops from the Cornell Statistical Consulting Unit. 

Research Data Management Service Group

Best practices suggested by the Research Data Management Service Group. 

Science communication courses

Learn to discuss your research and other complex issues with scientists and non-scientists in science communication courses.

Cornell Undergraduate Research Board

Join the Cornell Undergraduate Research Board (CURB), take advantage of their workshops and present your work at CURB forums. Attend departmental seminars to learn about current research from around the world (check individual department websites for dates and times).