Opinion: Get involved with research labs

If you’re an incoming undergraduate science student, this is the post for you. I’m a fourth-year student in the biochemistry and biotechnology combined honours program who has worked in a systems biology lab on campus since the early days of his degree, and I have some useful tips.

In 2015, I was very lucky to receive a Dean’s Summer Research Internship from the Faculty of Science. Since then I’ve been returning to the same lab each summer thanks to funding from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and my supervisor.

Thus, alongside my formal schooling during the fall and winter terms, I’ve received a hidden education — one you won’t experience unless you work in a lab (or in the field). In said education, not only do you learn valuable new methods and exchange novel ideas, but you also have the chance to apply concepts from class to the real world. You get to craft your own examples, and that really deepens your understanding on the subject. Plus, you have the chance to make great strides with regards to your career path.

The sobering professional environment that comes with working in a research lab is another reason why I strongly encourage new students to join a lab at the earliest opportunity.

It’s a way to put science at the centre of your life, and often times that’ll make it easier to find inspiration for future endeavours.

Through my lab work terms I’ve also made some amazing friends, met some incredible people, and built good relationships with professors who now know me by name. Connections like these are great for when students need references for future placements or expert advice from professional researchers. If you happen to have a visiting researcher in your lab, that can also open up doors if you want to take on lab placements elsewhere (even abroad!). Chances are lots of people around you have many connections, and that makes the possibilities endless.

Despite all these benefits, it is true that some research placements can be tricky to find. Checking the Faculty of Science website frequently as well as that of our library’s Discovery Centre is great for staying up to date with announcements. Also, make sure to be dilig ent about checking your student email inbox since some internships are only advertised via email. If instead you want to receive a credit for doing lab work, during the fall or winter, head over to the undergraduate calendar for your program to find out if any such courses are offered in the second, third or fourth years of studies (such as directed studies or independent research).

If your grades are decent and you’re willing to undergo the learning curve, there’s really no excuse. And although the remunerated positions will always be the most appealing, there’s plenty of volunteer and course-based options to go around too.

In my time involved in Carleton research, I’ve even witnessed high school students shadowing tenured professors around our research building. This proves that research is for everyone — you just need curiosity. Whatever your aspirations may be, if research has a place in your future, don’t think twice about getting involved.

Photo by Meagan Casalino