Coming into freshman year, the concept of research was both intimidating and foreign to me. I had no idea what research was really like. My only contact with research was through being force-fed long research papers and learning about scientific figures that had made history–literally–in classes.
But during my freshman year at Pitt, I realized that notion was misguided. Research paper reading can be rather fun (nerdy, I know!) if you digest it in small bites. Learning how to do just that in my freshman biology class was really helpful and turned research from something super intimidating to something I could find interest in. This really opened my eyes to research as a means of discovery, exploration, and application of concepts we learned in classes. Additionally, learning about the work that professors and other researchers were currently doing in Pittsburgh. As I worked through what I learned in class and saw how that knowledge was being used, explored, and modified in research, I found myself growing an interest in research and a curiosity to see what I could do. I knew I was interested in pursuing a career in biological sciences or medicine so I thought research would also let me be more hands-on in learning about interesting topics in medicine and biology early on.
Long story short, I reached out to my professor, got some great advice on searching for a suitable lab and conducting research as an undergraduate, emailed various PIs (principal investigators), and eventually found myself clicking with my current mentor in our conversation together. The research also seemed interesting to me based on the previous publications in the lab that I had read. I knew I was lacking in experience and was willing to learn all the skills I needed to not only perform the experimentation but really help out with the work going on in the lab. Since then, I’ve continued to really grow with the lab as I become a more independent researcher and become more involved with the work and community in the lab.
To any student who wants to conduct research but does not know where to start: I completely understand the situation you are coming from. I was once in your shoes! I encourage you to explore anything (this applies not just to research, by the way) that you are interested in during college! The years in college really go by quickly so leave no room for regrets and any could-have-been’s. To explore research, seek out advice from mentors, peers in research labs, and your professors. They are all great resources to understand more about seeking research positions and also what research really entails. On that note, research is a very vast field. So anything that piques your curiosity from class can also be a great topic to reach out to your professor to learn more about. It may even turn into a topic that you research! Once you find a lab, be patient with yourself. It takes time to develop research skills. If you have not had any previous experience with research, just take the time to immerse yourself in practicing the skills you have learned, reading more about things you are curious or confused about, and asking questions you may have. Good luck!