Students are accustomed to hearing that Tulane is a Research 1 institution, which signifies the highest degree of research activity, but finding pathways to these research opportunities can sometimes be difficult. Dr. Michael Moore, the Faculty-in-Residence in Weatherhead Hall, the sophomore Honors dorm, wanted to help students demystify this process by hosting a panel, “Research Opportunities and How to Get Them,” as part of his “Navigating Academic Life” series.
Dozens of students crowded into the lobby of Weatherhead to hear a panel of student researchers speak about their varied research experiences. The student panelists were Kaitlyn Tholen, a senior studying neuroscience, Mostafa Meselhe, a junior studying biomedical engineering and neuroscience, Sophia Kalashnikova Horowitz, a senior studying history, and Lipaz Avigal, a senior studying international political economy and Spanish. The array of disciplines represented helped students get a feel for what research opportunities can look like in different disciplines.
Most of the students in attendance were freshmen and sophomores, many of them looking to have their first research experience. Kaitlyn recalled that she “heard the word ‘research’ constantly throughout [her] time as an undergrad, but [she] struggled to know if it was the right path for [her] and how to get involved.” The attendees echoed this sentiment, wondering how to connect with the opportunities that exist on campus. Mostafa recognized that “a major difficulty for students looking for research opportunities is building self-confidence to contact and talk to the faculty.” The panelists emphasized the importance of looking into the research interests of faculty members in your field and contacting those whose work appeals to you. Sophia advised to “always have a plan B, prepare as much as you can before even contacting a potential advisor, and always follow up, follow up, follow up.” Mostafa noted that even by asking to meet with a faculty member, you will be demonstrating your interest in their work and getting one-on-one time with an accomplished researcher.
The panelists agreed that the most important aspect of finding a research position is seeking out a mentor that “is invested both in your professional success and personal advancement,” according to Lipaz. As Kaitlyn put it, “research will not always be easy, and having a solid support mechanism to listen to your ideas is crucial to make the tough times easier to handle.” Sophia noted that this relationship is a two-way street, and that professors will be happier to work with students who take initiative, ask questions, and demonstrate a commitment to the project. While connecting with professor is helpful in finding research opportunities, Lipaz also notes that it is the first step in “creating a network of professors who support you,” an ongoing process that can make a college experience exceptional.
For students seeking research opportunities, the message is clear: take advantage of the outstanding faculty resources available on Tulane’s campus by looking into their interests, connecting with them, and pursuing multiple options. Kaitlyn believes students who look have a good chance of finding a research opportunity, since “at the end of the day, professors want students...to truly contribute to and be interested in the work.”