Looking for summer research at Gustavus?

Posted on December 7th, 2009 by

Though it’s just starting to get cold here in St. Peter, it is not at all too early to start thinking about your plans for summer 2010.  Summer is a great time for a change of pace from the academic year and to make some extra cash, but you don’t necessarily have to shun academic work to get one or both of these. Many students use summers to gain valuable experiences in areas that interest them, or to try out a certain type of work. Summer can be a great time for students to try a research experience, and each year many of our students seek research opportunities working with Gustavus faculty. I get a lot of questions from students about how to find these opportunities, so here’s some general advice:

To get started, talk to faculty who do the kind of research that interests you. Even if you have broad interests, you probably can narrow it down to a few departments or programs. Find a faculty member (or two or three) that you know in one of these areas, and talk to them about (1) what kind of research/scholarship/creative work they do, (2) what kinds of opportunities there are for students in this area, including with other faculty, (3) how they would recommend proceeding in your search.

There is a lot of variation in tradition among departments, so when you have this conversation you might find that opportunities are rare in your preferred area, or you might be given a big list of opportunities to think about.

Here’s some advice for you to consider before starting to meet with faculty to talk about summer research:

  • Most faculty love to talk about their research/scholarship/creative work! So don’t be shy to ask them about what they do.
  • Make an appointment, rather than just dropping in. Most faculty will prefer this, I think. When you request the appointment, be clear about what you want to discuss. Maybe you’re just getting started and just want information about what research is like in this field and what kinds of opportunities are out there for students. Maybe you’re already sold on research and are out to find a position. Either way, just try to explain what it is you want to discuss.
  • Be prepared for your meeting. Think about the questions you want to ask before you go. If your meeting is specifically to ask about a particular research opportunity, be ready to talk about why you want the opportunity (see next bullet point) and the relevant courses/experiences/gifts you may bring to the table.
  • Think carefully about why you are seeking a research opportunity and be ready to explain this to the faculty members you talk with.  If you are just interested in research because you hear it will help you get into med school (or something along those lines), this is not terribly inspiring to potential research advisors. What do you hope to learn, or how do you hope research will affect your educational or career path? If you’re interested in research but aren’t sure how to articulate your interests, I suggest you meet with your advisor or another trusted faculty member to discuss this particular issue before you go any farther.
  • Start early. Some opportunities are snapped up in the fall by students who plan ahead. Be one of those students! Also, sometimes it can take time to arrange opportunities.
  • Be flexible. Until you start investigating, it’s hard to predict what opportunities (if any) will be available, and what they will look like. Some faculty only offer summer opportunities to students who are willing to commit some time during the academic year as well. Sometimes, you might need to consider a research opportunity in a field related to, but not exactly the same as, the one you were hoping for. Maybe no one in your preferred department does research with students during the summer, but they have a particular class that you could take during the academic year that includes research. Maybe they know of some opportunities on other campuses.
  • If a faculty member is explaining their research/scholarship/creative work to you, listen and ask questions. If you don’t understand something, speak up. Sometimes students feel like they should try to look as smart as possible and will pretend to understand things that are actually going over their heads– try not to fall into this trap. It’s impossible to do research without asking questions, and no one expects you to know as much about their work as they do– they’ve probably spent years or decades on this project and you’ve been listening only for a few minutes.
  • If a faculty member tells you they don’t have any opportunities for you, thank them for their time. Also consider asking them if they have any suggestions of other people you could talk to or other resources you could use in your search for a research opportunity.

I hope this is helpful! Please comment if you have questions, or other suggestions for students!


One Comment

  1. […] research opportunities, please know there are other opportunities available. See my recent post on finding summer research opportunities, or talk with faculty members in your discipline for more information. […]