3 answers

How do you start getting involved in research in college if you have never done it before?

Asked New Jersey, New Jersey

As an aspiring physicist or astrophysicist, I know that research is a central part of the job. However, I have never been involved in research in high school and want to pursue it in college. #science #physics #research

3 answers

Zachary’s Answer

Updated Houston, Texas

When I got started in research it was with a professor/mentor that was looking for an assistant. I didn't have experience either, but I was curious. Typically, a new researcher will start off with tasks that you already do as a student - reviewing literature to summarize the main points, doing basic data analysis, and requesting information via phone/email contact. If you don't already know someone that is looking for an assistant, you could try asking to join a research team as a volunteer or asking a professor if they could put you in touch with one of their colleagues that might need some help with a project. Also, if your school has TAs you could try working as a TA to develop a relationship with a professor and then, hopefully, transition into a research role. This worked for my wife in undergrad.

Zachary recommends the following next steps:

  • Put together a resume
  • Outline your goals for the experience so you can assess opportunities to see if you're going to get what you're looking for
  • Start doing some research on your chosen areas of interest on your own to get familiar with current trends. You could even go as far as compiling a literature review for practice. Here's a simple guide to get you started if writing a lit review: https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/literature-reviews/

Greg’s Answer

Updated Sunnyvale, California

I followed a similar route to Zachary's: one of my professors, possibly my advisor, mentioned that another professor was looking to hire an undergrad assistant, so I inquired and got the job in my sophomore year.  I started out putting together figures for his research papers, then doing some programing related to data analysis, and finally I moved over to his rocket lab and helped put together spacecraft payloads (which involved machining, mounting and/or soldering electronics, and a lot of testing and troubleshooting).

I already knew how to program at a basic level, but this was my first opportunity to do scientific computing, and I learned almost all of it on the job. Similarly, I took "electronics for physicists" (Horowitz and Hill) in my junior year, which probably helped qualify me for the move to the lab, but machining, power transistors, and real-world electronics troubleshooting were all things I learned after I got there.

It's absolutely a great experience, though, so I highly recommend it, even if the professor you end up with is working in an area that isn't your own first choice. Any experience is better than none, and you might discover you actually like it!

Victoria’s Answer

Updated Dallas, Texas

Hi Catherine,

This is a great question, start by looking up projects that allow citizen scientists to help out. This is a great way to get experience and possibly get published as well. Here are three links to some possible ideas. You might be able to virtually volunteer or there may be clubs or groups in New Jersey. Check out these links:

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/get-involved/pro-am-collaboration/ and


There are other opportunities as well:

https://njsgc.rutgers.edu/new-jersey-space-grant-consortium-programs Here is a link to NASA opportunities in New Jersey!


You have one of the largest planetariums in the world in your city. Check it out and see if you can volunteer there. Maybe you can help with a program or research for this center.

Victoria recommends the following next steps:

  • Check out the links above
  • Talk to the staff about citizen science projects to start out with.
  • Consider creating a science project on your own and publish it through a blog or the planetarium