Although undergraduates are not permitted to join in-person research projects, there are many opportunities for students, even freshmen, to achieve their research goals.
Tracy Smith, director of the Hopkins Office for Undergraduate Research (HOUR), explained that with current pandemic-induced social-distancing measures and research possibly remaining limited for the near future, learning remote research skills would be greatly beneficial.
“Remote research presents students with the opportunity to still get involved in the research process and learn about literature reviews and get acquainted with lab workings,” Smith said.
Such skills are becoming increasingly useful in all areas of research, so students can also reach out to principal investigators to see if there are specific skills they may value for students to have when conducting research in general as well as remote research.
Smith also discussed resources for students looking to get involved in remote research this semester.
One example is ForagerOne, an online-search platform where students can log in with their Hopkins credentials and search for faculty conducting research in areas ranging from chromatin biology to educational equity.
On the platform, a key term search can yield information about the more than 4,000 researchers listed in the database. Hundreds of researchers have updated profiles and many are actively looking for undergraduates to join their projects.
According to Smith, ForagerOne has proved to be a resource that continues to improve with each year as more students and faculty enter the database and are able to form valuable connections across University campuses. She explained that, particularly for freshmen, this is a way to get to know the various research areas at Hopkins and the faculty in those departments.
Department and lab specific sites are also a valuable resource to read about the published and current projects of faculty, their background and current collaborators.
Using the myJHU portal, Hopkins-affiliated students can search up the email of any faculty member simply by searching their name. When reaching out to professors and researchers, Smith suggested two key steps: a clearly demonstrated interest in the research project and a description of personal strengths which will contribute to the project.
“The most important aspect of an email to a researcher is that it should be brief and should not require much scrolling on the readers part,” she said.
The student’s introduction should be succinct and specifically mention the professor’s research. Then the student’s discussion of their strengths can range from brief summaries of past experiences to discussions of why they are excited about the work. Concluding with reliable contact information is critical.
Smith explained that emails should be as brief as possible as professors are quite busy and receive countless emails over the course of a day. Following up is also imperative; students should not be hesitant about emailing multiple times, keeping in mind to do so in a respectful manner.
For students who are not in Baltimore and prefer in-person research, Smith suggests seeing if there are alternative research institutions nearby that are open. Of course, all students should evaluate their personal comfort and ensure that social-distancing guidelines are met when conducting research in-person.
Additionally, Smith emphasized that students should not feel obligated to join research projects right now if they don’t believe the experience will enrich their education.
“Joining a research project should be a personal experience, not because you may think that everyone I know is doing this,” she said. “Many students wait until their spring or summer terms or second year or later to start research anyway. It is never too late to start.”