In high school, I gained some research experience through the research focused courses I took, as well as my experience spending a summer working in a bacterial biofilm research lab. I knew I wanted to continue growing my technical knowledge and skills, so the summer before my freshman year, I spent some time looking through the various research pages on the School of Medicine website. After I identified a few labs that seemed to align with my interests (I thought I wanted to be a cardiologist at that point), I started drafting emails to send to the PIs. Then, about a month before the start of the semester, I came across a National Geographic article about scientists making “mini livers.” Fascinated, I continued to read and to my surprise, the researchers were from the University of Pittsburgh! I immediately sent an email to the PI, Dr. Soto-Gutierrez from the Department of Pathology. Luckily, he responded and invited me to come tour the lab and learn more about the projects to see if I was interested. Although I had never envisioned myself doing research on liver diseases, I could not have been in a better environment to learn and develop as a scientist.
My advice for someone looking to get involved in research is to think about what topics interest you. Is there a particular organ or a model you want to work with? Next, look through the lab websites on the School of Medicine or UPMC websites. Make a list of all of the labs you would like to be involved in and read their previous publications. Finally, send an email to the PI explaining your background, why you are interested in that lab, and what you want to get out of that experience. The most important thing is to not get discouraged. You might not get a response from the PI, but you’re not alone! Stay motivated and go back to your list of interesting labs. Email the next PI and keep trying.
From my experience, I have learned a lot more about science and biology by conducting research than I did in any of my classes. Undergraduate research is an amazing way to get hands-on experience with cutting edge science. Additionally, venturing outside of your interests and comfort zone can help you discover more about yourself and what you like. My time in the Soto-Gutierrez lab has certainly helped clarify what I want my future career to look like. I highly recommend everyone to get involved in undergraduate research!