UNH has fantastic research opportunities for students to explore a wide range of topics and disciplines. Whether you are in liberal arts, STEM, or business (and every major in between), there are ample research labs and projects to join. In fact, the sheer number of ways to participate in research can be overwhelming. In this post I will focus on scientific "wet labs," which is what I have experience with, and share some important factors to think about while choosing the best lab for your goals and some tips for those who may be interested in switching labs.

What are your interests?

It is completely okay to not know where exactly your interests lie. In your undergraduate years, everyone is in the same boat. This is the time for exploration, so even if you have an idea, don’t close yourself off to other opportunities and different topics. Try to put aside time every few days to read up on a topic that piques your interest. This doesn’t have to be long, even 15-30 minutes will be beneficial. It may be helpful to have a list on your phone or computer where you can write some keywords or phrases relating to the topic. Then, when you have time, look up one of the topics and determine if it is something that interests you!

 You can also read about a professor’s research on UNH’s FindScholars@UNH webpage, which is a great way to learn more about specific research happening across the university. If you find yourself interested in what a professor is doing, reach out! A great way to develop your interests is to meet with professors and talk about what they are researching. Once you have a few topics that you are interested in, send emails out to professors who are doing similar research. In my experience, UNH professors are happy to talk to students about their research and life experiences that have brought them to where they are today. Even if you don't decide to join their lab, it can be a fantastic way to learn about the diverse ways research is performed. Meeting with the head of a UNH lab is a way to peer into the tone of the lab—is the professor relaxed and flexible, or more structured while you both talk? Most times the professor will mirror what the lab is like.

What are your research goals?

Everyone has different expectations of what they want out of their research experience here at UNH. Some students want to develop industry skills to prepare for internships, or to bolster their resumes; while other students want to develop research skills and prepare for graduate education. There is no “right” or “wrong” reasoning for participating in research.

 If you are unsure of your exact goals, try writing down your bigger academic or career goals on a piece of paper and draw out a loose “roadmap” from where you are now, to what you hope to accomplish. Asking yourself questions can help develop these maps, for example: Do you want to go to graduate school? What level of graduate school are you reaching for? What are the requirements for these programs? It is okay to change your mind as you develop your interests and learn more about the paths you can follow, so don’t feel intimidated by writing down your goals! They are just snapshots of what you are thinking of at a single moment. For example, I currently want to pursue academic research on disease treatments and teach at university, which requires a Ph.D. To make myself more competitive for these programs, I have chosen to participate in breast cancer research here at UNH.

What kind of organization works best for you?

Every lab is organized a bit differently. Some are structured and developed, while others may be more fluid and experimental. For example, a structured lab may place more importance on weekly lab meetings, and personal, independent projects with detailed plans. A more fluid lab may meet only as necessary, and the projects may be initially less defined. Take some time to reflect on your personal opinions towards organization and structure: Do you prefer higher levels of organization? Are you looking for more flexibility? If organization is important to you, ask the principal investigator, or members of the lab about their experience. I recommend using keywords such as "lab meetings," "independent projects," and "commitment." For example, you could ask “I was wondering if there is a specific time for lab meetings?"  

Advice for those looking to switch labs

One of the wonderful things about research at UNH is that students are encouraged to explore different research topics. The lab you join as a first- or second-year student may not be the lab you are with as you graduate. It is a great opportunity to develop new skills and pursue new interests as you iron out the details of your research interests. I recently switched labs, as I am currently more interested in breast cancer research, and I wanted to experience a more structured lab than with what I was familiar. At first, it was a bit scary to talk to other professors, but they want to see you develop your personal interests and experience as much as possible before you graduate, so don't let your fear hold you back.

 You may completely change research topics as you switch from one lab to another, but don’t think of your time in your old lab as wasted! The knowledge and techniques you learned are still usable, and your familiarity with a lab setting is more developed, which will be valuable as you assimilate into a new lab. Treat this as a chance to build upon the skills you have, while taking the opportunity to learn new techniques that you may not have been exposed to in your old lab.