How to get started in research

Conducting research as an undergraduate student is a rewarding experience that allows you to gain skills and explore topics beyond the boundaries of the classroom. The following steps will help you get started on your search for a research position.

Identify your topic of interest

Before beginning any type of research, it is important to identify your area of interest. Start by asking yourself a few basic questions: What kinds of skills do I have, and what types of skills do I want to acquire?

Are there any classes or areas of study that I’m drawn to?

Explore available opportunities 

There are various research opportunities at U of T for undergraduates in the Faculty of Arts & Science, as listed below. The Research Opportunity Program consists of 299Y and 399Y courses specifically designed to introduce research to second year students.

The Research Excursions Program includes 398H and 399Y courses designed for students in their third year. Students enrolled in this program can participate in practical or experiential activity under the supervision of a faculty member.

Undergraduate Summer Research Programs are offered by many Life Sciences departments at U of T. Research institutions and hospitals affiliated with U of T also have their own summer research programs. Applications for these are typically released in the winter months.

Find a mentor

Once you have decided on an area of interest, you must find a professor or principal investigator (PI) who will take you on as a student and mentor you throughout your research experience. Departmental websites often have brief academic biographies of researchers along with their relevant publications. This is a great way to find someone whose interests align with yours.

Contact your mentor

When you’ve  found a potential faculty mentor, introduce yourself through email. Your tone must be professional, and the subject line should clearly indicate your purpose.

PIs may receive several emails a day from students seeking positions in their lab, so be sure to spend time tailoring your message to stand out. Sending your emails earlier on in the application cycle can help you do so.

If your mentor accepts, the next step is often an interview. This is the first step to developing a working relationship with your PI. If there happens to be an open position in their lab, you may find yourself at the end of your search and at the beginning of your journey in research.

Start your research

Congratulations! You have now acquired a position as an undergraduate research student. Give yourself a pat on the back and look forward to a challenging yet rewarding experience.