Securing a research position is often a competitive and time-consuming process. You’ve submitted your application or sent your email to the faculty member and now… nothing. This situation can be frustrating and anxiety-inducing, but it’s important to remember that it’s not uncommon. We’ll explore the steps you can take when you don’t hear back about a research position. If you’re a student looking for an undergraduate research opportunity, these tips will help you navigate the uncertainty and make the most of the situation.
Patience and Timing
As I mentioned above, it’s not uncommon for a professor not to write back to a student writing to request a research opportunity. There can be a reason why! Faculty members are busy people; they are typically teaching classes, conducting research, grant/article writing, sitting on committees, helping with departmental administration, and dealing with their personal lives. It’s important to give them some time to review your request. Give a faculty member 1 – 2 weeks to respond to your email before sending a follow-up message. You can set yourself a reminder in your calendar for when to send any necessary follow-up messages. By ensuring they get a timely follow-up message, you can catch a faculty member at a different time when they have more availability to respond to your request. Waiting is part of the process and responses may come later than expected. I recommend setting a reminder on your calendar for a week or two after your initial email or application.
Expand Your Search
While waiting for a response, continue exploring other research opportunities. It’s important to apply to multiple positions, rather than just one. I recommend starting by applying or reaching out to 3 – 5 labs that you are interested in. By casting a wider net, you are increasing your chances of hearing back from a lab and securing a position.
If you need help finding multiple positions that fit your interest, try broadening what you are searching for or where you are looking. Example: What do you do if you are looking for a medical lab that is researching PTSD and you only find one lab? You can broaden your options by looking in other departments, such as psychology. You can also look at other ways to explore the same topic. Are you interested in understanding how people cope with PTSD? Maybe look into the veterinary department to look for service animal research. It’s important to break down your interest and expand your search so you do not limit yourself to just the initial opportunity that you find.
You can meet 1:1 with an Undergraduate Research Ambassador and get support on finding research opportunities!
If you are not hearing back from faculty members, consider networking within your department. Do you know if classmates or peers are in research labs? Ask them how they got connected to their opportunities. You can also speak to teaching/graduate assistants and professors you are taking classes with to ask them for advice on finding labs! Asking for advice is a common practice in research. You can even use a “no” as a time to get advice and network. If you ask a faculty member about a research position and they respond with a “no,” use that conversation as a way to connect to other opportunities. Ask them if they know of other opportunities or faculty members you can speak with who provide an experience like the one you were asking for. Many research positions are found through talking and connecting with people around you. Expanding your network is important because it allows you to get up-to-date information within your department on finding opportunities.
Voicing your goals out loud in your department can also help people know what you are looking for and inform you when they hear of an opportunity. Make sure to connect with those around you, such as your advisor, faculty members, peers, etc. The more people you network with is the more chances of hearing about a research opportunity! That is the power of networking!
Reevaluate and Adapt
If you still aren’t receiving a response, consider reassessing your application strategy.
Identify areas for improvement and tailor your future applications or communications based on the feedback received or the information you’ve gathered during your wait. Are you sending emails to faculty members that are too broad or general? Consider customizing your emails to show the faculty member you understand their research and took the time to read about the work they do. Understanding the work a faculty member does is very important when you are hoping for a response from them! Are you using a resume that you haven’t updated in a while? Consider updating it to reflect the current experiences and skills you are bringing to the lab! Student Engagement and Career Development has great information on their website and in the Wildcat Career Guide (p 13 onward).
Don’t let the absence of a response discourage you. Rejections or non-responses are part of the process, and everyone experiences them at some point. Even the best researchers have experienced a denied application or missed opportunity at some point in their career! Stay persistent and remain positive, focusing on your commitment to research and your long-term goals.
While it can be challenging waiting for a response regarding a research position, it’s essential to remain proactive and optimistic. Whether you eventually receive an offer, a rejection, or continue waiting, your actions during this time can shape your future opportunities. In the world of research, it’s important to make the most out of every situation to continue to learn and grow from them.