How do I get started in research as an undergrad? (Database Edition)

by Kaushik Puranam
Undergraduate Researcher
Chemistry, Class of 2018

hands typing on a keyboardGetting started in undergraduate research can be a daunting experience. One way to look for a research position is through the OUR research opportunities database – something I did my sophomore year at Carolina.

I started as simply as I could think of – with a Google search for undergraduate research at UNC. The first thing that came up was the OUR website and the database. Seeing this made the database made me wish I’d known as a freshman how easy it was to search for a research opportunity – I would have started in my first year.

Since only open positions are posted, this made finding a position more straightforward for me than emailing around to different professors asking about potential openings. On the database, researchers post details about the position type (credit, pay, volunteer), availability (fall, spring, summer), contact information, and a description of the project. All of them are searchable by major or area of study. From the first email to getting hired took me less than three weeks. Here are some pointers for anyone looking to use the database to find a research position:

  1. There tend to be more a larger number of new postings right before the new school year starts and the first couple weeks of every new semester, so check back regularly around those times if you’re looking for a position.
  2. Remember, these postings are directly from professors, therefore the quicker you act upon them the better. If you contact the professor a week after the posting, chances are that they have already been contacted by several other students and have set up interviews.
  3. Does this mean that you should apply to every posting you see for your major that day its posted? No, of course not, you should apply for research opportunities that interest and excite you while keeping in mind that you may not find the position you are exactly looking for in the database.
  4. Stay positive whilst applying for different research positions! Getting a research position in your first try is rare so keep your head up and be on the lookout for the next opening.

After the post-doc I was working with accepted a job at a different university, I was on the hunt for another position. Since I had knew several labs doing interesting research by then, I emailed a few labs I was interested in. Now, I am doing neuroscience research in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology where I am researching survival in neurons and cancer cells after suffering damage.

Research can be such a rewarding experience; I was lucky enough to find my first research lab through this database and I was exposed to many new techniques that I never thought I would be getting the chance to utilize as an undergraduate. The most important thing to remember is to apply to positions that truly interest you so that you can not only prove your passion to the Principal Investigator but also be excited yourself about the amazing prospects of doing research at UNC.