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Get Research Experience for Graduate Admissions


Graduate programs, especially PhD programs, highly value research experience. Without it, it's unlikely that you'll gain admission, regardless of your GPA. To make the short list of acceptances, you must demonstrate that you have what it takes to conduct research and thereby extend the field. Gain research experience as an undergraduate student and admissions committees will be more confident that you understand what research is all about and have the ability (and motivation) to do it.

How to Get Involved in Research
It's up to you to seek out opportunities to get involved in research. How? First, excel in your courses and take time to get to know faculty (e.g., stop by their office hours to ask intelligent questions, show them interesting articles or cartoons that relate to course content). Faculty look for students who are motivated, bright, and personable. Do well in class and be generally pleasant, and they might approach you to ask if you're interested in helping out with some research.

But don't wait to be asked to get involved in research, take the initiative. Talk with faculty and let them know that you're interested in obtaining research experience. Ask if they need any help with projects or know someone who is looking for a volunteer to assist with research. Think back to classes that you've taken. Do any professors stand out? Did any talk about the research that they conduct? Perhaps a professor in your department has published an interesting article. Remember, that although having taken a class with the professor may help to break the ice, you should also approach professors whose work interests you, regardless of whether you've taken their classes.

If you find a professor who you'd like to work with, read a couple of his or her articles. This preliminary background reading will show the professor that you're serious, interested in assisting him or her, and motivated. Send the professor your resume and a cover letter mentioning the articles you've read and why their work interests you. Express your interest in assisting them with their work and include information such as your grade point average and the courses that you've taken. Ask to set up an appointment. When you meet with the professor, express your interest, and ask whether you may assist him or her. Most professors are glad to have an extra pair of hands to work on their research projects, but sometimes professors are overwhelmed with students who wish to assist them. If the professor doesn't need additional assistance, ask if he or she knows whether other professors are looking for research assistants.

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