Reaching Out to Find a Research Mentor

— JAYLYN JEWELL

Undergraduate research can seem incredibly daunting, especially when you are first exploring the opportunities here at UNH. When I started to get into undergraduate research in my field of nursing, I was excited but struggled with finding my worth as a potential researcher. The hardest part for me was reaching out to mentors. I was worried that I would not be able to contribute anything, that I would be more of a hindrance than a help. However, I could not have been more wrong. If anyone else is feeling this way, I promise it is not as scary as it seems, and UNH makes it simple to find a mentor and begin participating in research. You might be surprised at how passionate scholars here at UNH are about helping students get involved in undergraduate research.

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To start off, think about your interests and what you would be excited to learn more about. Through the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research, students have done research projects in art, business, music, and so much more. Once you’ve identified some interests, you can visit Find Scholars at UNH (https://findscholars.unh.edu) and use the search bar to find mentors who align with your interests. I’m really interested in research regarding mental health and psychiatric disorders, so I searched key terms like “depression,” “eating disorders,” “mental health,” and “inpatient psychiatric treatment.” From there you can scroll through scholars and read about the research they are working on as well as things they have done in the past. If you don’t have a specific topic in mind, that’s okay. You can also just explore the website, and maybe you’ll find something that inspires you.

Once you find someone whose interests align with yours, email them! This was the scariest part for me, but I pushed myself to follow through with it. Stepping out of my comfort zone in that way has brought me to where I am now, taking advantage of opportunities I never dreamed of. It is important to recognize your worth and know that you can and will contribute to these research projects. You may not get responses from everyone, but don’t take it personally—these people are super busy. In the beginning, I reached out to a lot of people. In the emails I sent, I introduced myself, my major, why I wanted to get into research, and asked some questions about their research. A lot of people didn’t respond, but that’s okay. What matters is that you put yourself out there and push yourself to go outside of your comfort zone.

Eventually, you will find someone who is just as excited to work with you as you are with them. My mentor, Professor Kristen Clark, was so eager to introduce me to the project she was working on and took me right under her wing. Now, after meeting with my mentor regularly both on Zoom and in person, I have completed the Research Experience and Apprenticeship Program (REAP) and am currently enrolled in the INCO 590 course to continue working on the project, which explores the experiences of sexual and gender minority people in inpatient psychiatric treatment. I have had so many wonderful opportunities, and I could not be more grateful that I overcame my anxiety and hit send on those emails.

If you are thinking about getting into research, I strongly encourage you to do so. Research is a team effort, and the very best research involves teams of diverse people. Never doubt yourself—you can bring so much to the table. Everyone at the Hamel Center is more than willing to help. They’re always there to answer any questions you may have, and even help match you up with a mentor. No matter what your interests are, take a deep breath, remind yourself of your worth and your intelligence, and step out of your comfort zone, as you never know where it may take you.