How do I find a lab for my senior thesis or an independent study, or if I would like to volunteer in a research project?
The NSB department periodically announces labs seeking new students. Announcements are circulated trough the email list of neuroscience students created by the department (if you want to be included in the list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org). The department coordinates the student-lab matching.
Students can also conduct their own search and contact a lab directly. It is recommended to plan the search with the student advisor. You can also contact Dr. Michele Miozzo, the department representative for lab placements. Useful information for selecting and contacting a lab can be found in the FAQ section below.
This is a useful resource for students who want to join a lab or want to get a sense of existing opportunities.
FAQ about Labs
Finding a lab may require some effort. Labs may not have openings; while busy in wrapping up projects, research teams may not have the resources to train a new student; and overflowed with requests, PIs may be slow to respond. In these circumstances, you might need to persevere -- and do some planning.
• Homework. There are many neuroscience labs at Barnard, Columbia, Columbia Medical School, and the Zuckerman Institute -- and in NY at large. Read the lab profiles available online to find labs investigating themes that align with your interests.
• Take a chance. You join a lab to get experience in research and science. Any lab could do it! You may not find a lab matching perfectly to your interests. But all labs offer the exposure to research and science you look for.
• Seek help. Your advisor and NSB faculty can offer valuable suggestions. Ask their advice. Furthermore, on the NSB site you find a list of labs with openings or where NSB students worked in the past. This is a useful resource.
• Ask to a friend. Do you have a friend at Barnard who is already working in a lab? Ask her about her lab and how she likes to work there. If you find her lab an interesting choice, you can ask your friend to introduce you to her lab supervisor. If the lab supervisor trusts your friend, the lab supervisor will probably trust your friend's recommendation as well.
• Be strategic. There are a few things you may want to write in your email to the lab PI to make it more effective. Tell why you are interested in that particular lab. Describe what you know -- especially knowledge and skills you acquired in lab courses that could turn very useful in wet labs. Mention if your advisor or any NSB faculty recommended that lab. In essence, include anything that would make your request less anonymous and generic and more personal and specific. (Detailed information about contacting a lab is provided on this page under the question "How do I contact a lab?")
Here are a few useful suggestions about how to email professors about research opportunities in their labs.
Be concise Faculty usually receive a large volume of emails, and you are more likely to get a response if it is easy to identify the salient points in your message. Avoid sending a long, generic message explaining all your different areas of interest and reasons for wanting to get involved in research. Select the most important points only, and mention them briefly.
Be informative The following information should ideally be part of your email:
- A subject line that clearly states the aim of your message
- A very brief introduction of yourself. Keep in mind that your signature may already have some important information (affiliation, major, graduation year, etc.)
- The reason of your email (TIP: It is always a good idea to visit the lab’s website and read about their research before sending your email.)
- Include your CV or resume and, if relevant, your college transcripts.
If you are writing about a research opportunity:
- Mention how you know the lab or came across their research (in a class, through the department website, through a friend who works there, etc.).
- Explain that you are interested in that lab in particular. Always avoid generic messages. What is it about their research that you find interesting, and why? (TIP: Even if you find some aspects technically challenging, reading a recent article from the lab will give you a clearer idea of the type of work they do.)
- Describe any relevant experience that you may have. (TIP: keep it simple and specific, for example "last Summer I learned to extract insect DNA during a research stay at the Natural History Museum under the supervision of Dr. xxx.")
- If you have very good grades, you could mention it, but don´t worry too much if you don´t. Research skills and good grades may or may not coexist, and many excellent scientists did not have particularly strong records. Doing laboratory research and excelling at studying require very different skills
- Mention if you are interested in working in the lab as a research assistant (a paid position) or for academic credit (independent research studies: https://neuroscience.barnard.edu/independent-study-0), or either.
If you are responding to an opening:
- Mention how you learned about the opening
- Describe your qualifications for the position referring to specific points in the opening description (for example: Chemistry major, Programming in R, DNA extraction, etc.)
- List the names, affiliations and contact information of 2-3 people who could serve as references.
Be polite and use standard language
- Address the recipient as Dr. or Prof., at least on your first interaction
- Avoid slang, abbreviations, and emoticons (for example, avoid saying things like "idk if you are accepting students")
- Use standard punctuation and grammar
- Avoid sending emails during weekends and holidays
- Be respectful and don’t assume that the recipient can meet with you immediately (TIP: instead of saying something like "I would like to meet with you to discuss my interest in this position as soon as possible," say "If possible, I would like to schedule a meeting to discuss this in person," or, if it is an option, simply mention that you will be attending office hours,).\
For more information you can consult these sources:
Neuroscience labs are increasing looking for students with programming skills. If you plan to join a lab, you should consider taking courses on computer science and programming -- you will acquire skills spendable not only in labs but in innumerable other contexts.