When I talk about research on my tours, I get some intimidated faces. Something about the word invokes a response I had myself freshman year: am I even qualified for that? Research sounds like something very complex and important, reserved for someone with “Dr.” preceding their name. But just like I assure my tour guests, it’s accessible, it’s interesting, and UT Dallas is a perfect place to do it.
UTD is undeniably a research-focused institution. Wander the hallways and you’ll find more labs than you knew existed. Peruse our research website (yes, we have one, utdallas.edu/research) and you’ll start to get a sense of how integral it is to our campus operations. Ask a handful of upperclassmen and you’ll likely find some that are doing research in labs themselves. It exists in every academic school on campus and undergraduates are welcomed to dip their toes. But wait, how do you get involved?
I work in the Close Relationships and Health lab in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. We study how close interpersonal relationships are related to a person’s health. I’m a basic coder, so I code audio files to determine whether or not they’re valuable to our study. Remember, my experience is one tiny slice of what research is like, as there are labs in countless disciplines. The exact process for getting a spot in a lab vary from school to school, but I’ll tell you the basic steps and how to get your foot in the door.
- Talk to your professors.
They are the ones that run the labs, and talking to a professor who teaches a class you love is a great way to get your name out there and learn more about what they do. If you end up applying for their lab, it will be advantageous for them to know who you are. Ask if there are spots available in the lab (labs often recruit towards the end of each semester).
- Get your application ready
Browse the list of labs in your department (most have a website dedicated to this) and pick the ones that sound most interesting to you. Research assistant positions can be competitive so you want to maximize your chances of getting in by applying to more than one lab. Having other labs in mind will come in handy if you get further into the process and discover the one you chose isn’t the best fit after all- this happens and it’s fine, both you and the researchers you work with want you to be in a lab that suits you and them. Many labs on campus have a formal application you’ll have to complete to be considered for a spot. Be ready to answer what classes you’ve taken, your grades, your extracurricular, and why you think you’d be a good fit for the lab.
- Be prepared to interview
Many labs utilize an interview process to meet applicants they’re interested in. You don’t need to show up in a suit, but dress nicely and present yourself well. Be prepared to elaborate on what was on your application and ask any questions you have about the research or how you’ll be contributing. You’ll likely be told what position you will hold and how you will contribute- if not, make sure to ask so you can learn about your responsibilities.
- Put it on your resume!
Yay, you got a spot! Remember, research is vital experience for many grad school applicants and can be crucial in getting you to the next phase in your life or career. Ask questions, work hard, and be proud of yourself for contributing to UT Dallas’s body of research. Enjoy it, don’t be afraid to try new labs if you realize you’re in one that doesn’t suit your interests, and soak up as much as you can from the opportunity.
B.S. Criminology/ Psychology
Class of 2018
The University of Texas at Dallas