afraid

Questions related to finding and working with a mentor, finding an idea, etc.

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afraid

Postby ecouter11 » Wed May 04, 2011 1:41 pm

Hi everyone,
I'm a rising sophomore in high school. I live in Upstate NY, and there are some local universities that are fairly well known for research. URochester and RIT are the two main ones.
I've always been really interested in science, and I want to conduct independent research, and hopefully be able to enter some science competitions. However, to be entirely honest, I'm really afraid of emailing professors asking for help

I don't have any connections, although I might be able to talk to my chemistry teacher, but in the meantime, I really have no connections. My family is fairly new to this area, and it's really frustrating to me when people who I know who are doing research solely for college apps, get to research because of connections.

I drafted an email and showed it to a junior friend of mine, and he was really discouraging and said that usually professors don't want to work with high school students either. At my school we have an internship program, and I can try setting something up through that, but again, I'm afraid that the person who manages it will reject me because I'm 'too young'.

Currently, I'm taking biology and chemistry at school, and studying Calculus, organic chemistry, and physics online through MIT opencourseware. Do you experts have any suggestions for me?

I'm feeling extremely discouraged and disappointed right now :( :(
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Re: afraid

Postby agm » Wed May 04, 2011 3:59 pm

Hi ecouter11,

Welcome to the forum. I'm sorry that your friend was so discouraging!

It sounds like you're a good student who is truly interested in research, and I think that if you can communicate that to a professor you'd like to work with, you have a good chance of finding someone who'll take you on. The best way to do that is to read a lot about their work before you contact them, and then ask them relevant questions about their projects and how you might get involved. Most research groups (a "group" at a US university is typically headed by one professor and includes grad students, postdocs and maybe a few undergrads) have some sort of web page these days, and you can also search scholar.google.com for the professor's publications. If your school or library has journal access, you might be able to access pdfs of full papers -- but even if not, you'll be able to read abstracts (short summaries). If there's one you're really interested in, you could also ask the prof to send you a copy in your introductory email.

If you're interested in working in a lab this summer, now is a great time to contact someone. Many professors travel a lot during the summer, but that's not a big problem because it's likely that they will set you up with a grad student or postdoc to work with on a day-to-day basis.

To detour for a minute, here's my advice on how to be a good junior researcher:

While being trained, pay attention to what you need to do to get good data and not break the instruments. While working, ask questions if you're unsure of something or if something really odd happens. As time goes on, try to grasp all the details of the work as well as the big picture. Come to meetings with questions and with a good summary of your results to show (once you have them), and take notes on what your prof says. Be respectful of people's time, including any grad students and postdocs you work with: "Do you have a few minutes sometime Wednesday to help me with ___?" is much better than "I'm coming at 3 today and I need help!!"

...this is not supposed to scare you, because you can absolutely do this and it will come naturally if you care about what you're doing. But it might give you an idea of why younger students can be difficult to work with. It isn't that anyone expects students to know very much -- don't worry about people thinking your questions are dumb! -- it's that sometimes students don't seem to care about getting accurate results or behave as though the world revolves around them. To a certain extent, a prof who works with you is doing you a favor, and if you get great results it's because you did good work and because they selected a project for you very carefully. But also know that anyone who mentors you will be very proud when you get into a good college, or especially if you end up doing something science-related as a career. And everyone in science has been mentored by others along the way.

So, I bet there's a professor in your area who'd be thrilled to work with a student like you! All you have to do is get his or her attention and show that you're motivated, interested, etc. An email subject line like "research project for a high-school student this summer?" might work well.

Best wishes,
Amanda
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Re: afraid

Postby ecouter11 » Thu May 12, 2011 12:40 pm

Thank you so much for your reassuring words! They helped me get the nerve up to talk to my internship person at my high school, and she said that it's likely that i'll get placed in a lab, possibly hematology.

However, she also said that it was a good idea to send out emails to professors anyways, because its a good way to connect with the people.
I read the 'how to find a mentor' guide on the website, but I'm kind of iffy on how to word it.

You mentioned how I ought to read up on their work and ask questions. Should I ask my questions in the email, or try and tell them how much I enjoy researching, how interesting their work is, etc?
Should I request a face to face meeting also if possible?

Thank you so much!
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Re: afraid

Postby ecouter11 » Thu May 12, 2011 2:29 pm

Edit: I actually went and reread the guide..it seems like I forgot some of the things that you mentioned. I went and rewrote the email, so it reads something like this...

Dear Dr.___

I am a rising sophomore at ** High School. I am really passionate about science, especially the fields of biology and chemistry. Currently, I am taking Honors biology and honors chemistry at my high school, and independently studying Biochemistry, Chemistry, and single variable calculus offered through Open Courseware (OCW) by certain Universities. After learning through OCW, my interest in science has grown exponentially, to the point where I am now interested in working on a research project/researching by myself.
Your research on **insert topic here** is incredibly fascinating. I have read through your paper on ***, and found the **(topic) to be an extremely interesting subject. I was wondering if it would be possible for me to meet with you so I can discuss research possibilities with you. I understand that not only are you busy, but that you must also get many requests from many students who are interested in researching as well. I am determined to pursue research, and I realize that since you are so busy, you may not be able to accommodate my request, so I would be grateful if you could distribute my request to others in your department who may be free.

Thanks,
Student XXX
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Re: afraid

Postby agm » Thu May 12, 2011 2:46 pm

Thank you so much for your reassuring words! They helped me get the nerve up to talk to my internship person at my high school, and she said that it's likely that i'll get placed in a lab, possibly hematology.


That's great!

You mentioned how I ought to read up on their work and ask questions. Should I ask my questions in the email, or try and tell them how much I enjoy researching, how interesting their work is, etc? Should I request a face to face meeting also if possible?


I'd say that if you have a specific question, don't be afraid to ask it, but also don't feel like you have to come up with a bunch of questions when looking over their work. If you look at their group website and maybe the abstracts of some recent papers, and look up any phrases that are unfamiliar (often even Wikipedia is helpful), then you can say things like, "I'm interested in your work on [project, goals]" or "I'd be interested in learning how to use [equipment or technique] to measure [something]". That will (1) show them that you're serious enough to have spent some time reading about their work and trying to understand it, and (2) give them an idea of what kind of project you might like. And if you end up talking to them in person, it'll be a lot easier to understand what they're saying! (Anyone who works in academia is in such a specialized field that it gets hard to remember what non-scientists or younger people don't already know.) I'd also recommend, rather than specifically requesting a meeting, just saying that if they think they have a project for you, you'd generally be available for a meeting at a certain time (after 4 weekdays, or Saturdays, or whatever). If transportation is a problem you could also suggest Skype or a phone call.

I just saw your draft email -- it looks good! The only changes I'd suggest are (1) get rid of the sentence "I understand that not only are you busy, but that you must also get many requests from many students who are interested in researching as well" and (2) make it clear whether you're interested in starting this summer and are available full-time, or this would be a part-time thing starting in the fall, or whatever your ideal schedule is.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes -- we always like to hear success stories!

Amanda
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Re: afraid

Postby ecouter11 » Thu May 26, 2011 4:54 pm

I started emailing, and the first person gave me a polite rejection. I thanked him for replying. I'm kind of discouraged, but I'll try emailing at least 12 people and see how that works out.
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Re: afraid

Postby staryl13 » Sat May 28, 2011 6:33 pm

Hi!
It sounds like you are doing a good job with being persistent. Just keep in mind not to email multiple people from the same university/hospital/institution at the same time, sometimes that can be taken as offensive if they find out that you have also "expressed interest" in other people's projects as well as theirs simultaneously. This is usually not an issue, but just as a precaution, if you are sending out multiple emails at once, try to send them to people at different institutions. Best of luck, keep us posted on your progress!
"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -Isaac Asimov
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Re: afraid

Postby ecouter11 » Sun May 29, 2011 3:55 pm

^I'll definitely keep that in mind..though I sent about 20 emails to the same college, but for future reference?! :)
I got 1.5 positive responses!! :D 1 Professor invited me for a meeting, and the other said she would take me, but her lab is overcrowded, but for future reference. All in all, I got 5ish responses..most were either overcrowded/busy, 2 were kind/helpful.
Now to study his material!
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Re: afraid

Postby ecouter11 » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:32 pm

.. :(
This summer was great-I got hands on experience and I had talked to the Head of Microbiology/Immunology department, and he said he'd set me up with a lab rotation..unfortunately, due to family circumstances, I have to move :( :(

I updated my resume and I'm going to send emails out again...do you suggest I be more upfront with the idea that i want to do research?

Thanks and regards,

ecouter11
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Posts: 7
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