A good way to approach a laboratory is at a seminar. Look for a faculty member or a graduate student from the lab who will be giving a seminar. Go to that seminar, take good notes, and afterward, go up and ask a question of the speaker. After your question is answered, ask a follow-up if you can think of one. At some point, inquire if the lab is taking on new students and how you would be very interested in working in the laboratory.
A seminar opportunity may not be available. Another option is to stop by the lab. Yeah, I know this can be terrifying, but scientists are people too. They don’t bite! Ask to talk to a graduate student. Ideally, one that was on the paper you researched. Be upfront about why you are there, but also show your interest by asking about the paper and the work that went into it.
Another option, which is also a good way to start, is to write a carefully crafted email to the laboratory. You can address the PI or the graduate student who is an author of the paper and still in the laboratory. Here are some tips for composing your Email:
- Make it short. Scientists are busy people.
- Be upfront about your interest in working in the lab.
- Mention the paper that you read and why you would be interested in working on the subject.
- Sell yourself! Remember the reasons you think you would be a great candidate to be in the lab.
- If your Email doesn’t have a response in a week, then go to the laboratory in person.
Don’t be disappointed if the answer is no. The laboratory may not have the time or funds to take on another undergraduate researcher. Or you may not be a good fit for that laboratory. It is fine to analyze why you might have been unsuccessful, but many times it’s not anything you did. Go on to the next potential laboratory and start the process again. If you are persistent, chances are good that you will find yourself a home.