Rantings of an Undergrad: How to Get into a Lab and Why I’m Glad I’m in RETRO

Article, Katherine Hancock, Undergraduate Perspectives No Comments

Katherine Hancock | October 26, 2012

I want to extend a hand to any undergrad who stumbles across this lab blog because they’re looking into volunteering and feels maybe a little scared about it. I want to provide a little information and advice that they might not have heard before.

You’re likely looking into a lab because you want to get into graduate school. Getting into a lab is almost mandatory if one wishes to get into graduate school these days. So, you’re on the right track so far.

First thing I can suggest: Get Information.

Most undergraduates know research happens on their campus but have no idea what those labs or what they focus on. I certainly didn’t. Luckily, UCF has a very helpful little website that lists all these labs and gives a brief description:


Here’s some info on why you should get into a lab: grad school, already mentioned it but absolutely important. Also, the experience is invaluable. Yes, you’ve written papers in class and yes you’ve seen plenty of youtube videos about rats pressing levers. The experience of seeing how a lab runs is incredible and very different from what you might have built up in your head. I thought labs ran one experiment at a time and that is absolutely not true. You won’t work on just one experiment. Everyone has one, everyone has ideas, and everyone is in different parts of the process. Someone’s running their experiment while another is doing a literature review and another is defending their dissertation. It’s a beautiful, wonderful chaos of theories, specifics, and pragmatics. You definitely want to be a part of it.

Second thing: Pick something you’re truly interested in

This is where I’m glad I chose RETRO, I get excited by everything they’re doing and thinking of doing. Your research experience will be no fun if you don’t like what the lab is researching. You won’t bond with the people, your experience will be useless in the context of you graduate career and you won’t end up with that killer letter of recommendation that you’re looking for. Don’t settle.

Third: Be aggressive, be be aggressive

Terrible reference aside, it’s important to not be apathetic about going after research. Yes, even emailing people can be scary. Don’t be scared! The worst they can do is say no, what’s most likely is that they won’t get back to you. People are so much friendlier than you give them credit for. They aren’t going to come to you, so make a move.

Fourth: Follow through

With everything you do. Every single email, every single time. Return phone calls, go to meetings and absolutely show up when you need to. These are the things people value when looking for others they want to work with.

So, that’s some advice I have to give for anyone interested in doing research as an undergrad. You can do it. If you need any encouragement, or want anymore information look me up and write me an email. RETRO has been so much fun for me, and I hope every undergrad can find and enjoy a lab as much as I have.

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