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December 5, 2012


Replies: 15

Getting a summer research position? Tips? My GPA blows

Hey guys,

So, I am a science student in college. This summer, I REALLY want to get a summer research position in a lab. The problem however, is that my GPA blows. And when I say it sucks, I mean it's just under 2.7. Yeah, I have C+, yikes.

This poses a problem because a lot of professor would like you to have research granting, but most of these require a GPA minimum of 3.0-3.2 to even be considered. I know professors who are also willing to take in students who are unable to get funding, but this becomes very limited (like, 3-4 people). And it is more likely that someone else will get a position than me, if there GPA is well, better than a C+.

I also feel like I have screwed myself over because I have very little experience in terms of research. I haven't volunteered much either in clubs or hospitals, so I feel like I have not much to show.

Any way, my question is, have you guys been in a similar situation before? What would you do? I considered asking the professor if I could volunteer, but I don't know how I can show I'll be committed (volunteering in a lab can be frowned upon, just because in the past, students tend to bail/not show up).

I've already contacted a few professors and they want me to show them my unofficial transcripts, resume, and CV. It sucks because...I am literally giving them nothing.

I don't know what to do and any help or suggestions as far as how I should go asking/speaking to these professors and not seem like total scum would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!

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Devious Comments

Seltivo Dec 7, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Don't limit yourself to asking university professors. If you're interested in biology or chemistry, a lot of big hospitals engage in research and have jobs available for undergraduate students. If you're interested in physics, you might want to look at labs (TRIUMF, SNOlab, etc.)
Yes, I know! Those were some of my many back up plans. The thing I worry about, however, is the fact that my chemistry/physics ability is probably the equivalent of getting a 3 year old to do your taxes :P

Hence, why I'm trying to stay closer within the biology bubble.

While I am really wanting an opportunity to do some work, I don't want to end up doing something I hate, either. Because I feel like it might taint my idea of what research might be like.

Thanks for the response, though.
Express as much interest as you can in your email. Research what their lab does and make it clear you know what the lab is all about. Even if your resume is non-existent make it look as nice as you possibly can, put your ACT/SAT scores on there, maybe your high school GPA. If you haven't been doing research put what you do with your free time on there, any clubs or activities you do. Ask if they could talk with you about research, it's a lot harder for them to turn you down in person and a personal meeting allows them to see how serious you are about wanting to do research in their lab. Volunteering in a lab should not be frowned upon. Perhaps offer a commitment beyond just the summer, maybe consider a year or more commitment to the lab so you can show how serious you are and give yourself time to actually learn the ins and outs of the place. I currently work for a lab on my campus for no pay, 15 hrs a week with a commitment of 2 school years and 2 summers, it was my willingness to commit for so long that really snagged me the position.
Sorry, I was getting ahead of myself. The professor also forwarded a portion of an email to me (my guess is what she had sent out to other students). It read:

[List of projects]
If any of these projects interest you you can read up on them on the websites I included below and when we get back to you we can discuss any that you find interesting. Also, feel free to stop by our lab (see my address below) to chat about projects or for more information.

I've always been under the impression it's better to warm up to a professor, especially if you haven't talked to them/had them for a class before. That's also why I don't just want to go into like a job interview or something. The fact she wrote this, should I go in and ask about it before I send my resume in?

I apologize if this is getting a bit long - I didn't mean for it to. If you don't have time to respond I completely understand!
Ok, so, if you have legitimate questions about the research or about working in the lab then you should ask to arrange a meeting with her. Particularly for you I would recommend a meeting with all professors you contact so you can explain the reasons for your GPA in person rather than them just looking at a piece of paper and judging you purely on that.

In a general sense, when writing emails to professors about getting a position I would include the following in all 1st contact emails. The general format would be something like this:

Good afternoon,

I am a ___ year student studying _____. I am very interested in your research on ______, especially your projects about ________. I would really like to set up a meeting with you to talk about your research and maybe a position in your lab if you have the time. I am completely open to a purely volunteer based position and I am ready to make a long term commitment to your lab if desired. I have attached my resume if you would like to see a copy.

Thank you for your time,

If you tell professors up-front that you are entirely fine with working in their lab unfunded you are just as hirable as someone who has funding because both of you are going to cost the lab $0. If you make it clear that you are willing to commit long term with no pay (assuming you're actually OK with that) you are now going to get an even standing with anyone who has funding. The best plan of attack is to email 5 or more professors at once to optimize your chances of one of them having an opening and then getting a meeting with them.

I don't know if that answers all of your questions or not, I could have easily missed some of them, but I hope this helps so far.
My one concern is that I had already contacted this one professor. My email was very similar to what you wrote except I did not include the portion about volunteering. This was because my initial plan was to talk to them in person where I would've asked them about getting a position. I'm not sure how to respond now since the reply she gave me was a bit impersonal + asking for my info. I'm not sure if you saw it, but I pasted a portion of it in my other response.

So I don't know if I should ask about volunteering via email or if I should pop by the lab, ask a few questions, then inquire about volunteering then. I was thinking of doing the latter and then following it up with my resume.
Or do you think it would be better to give them my resume and then pop by the lab? Hrm.

But yes, thank you for the response. I'm planning on contacting a few other professors and I'll try what you suggested!
I think you should definitely try to meet with the professor; however, popping by isn't the best tactic unless you know when their office hours are. PIs are always busy, so finding them in their office unless they're scheduled to be there can be difficult. Whatever you feel better about in terms of order of mention between volunteering and your resume is up to you, but I think you'll have better luck getting into a lab that didn't just have a large event which is why I suggested other labs.

In terms of emailing the professor you've already contacted, I would try to set up an "I have questions about your lab" meeting and at the end mention that you are looking to volunteer in a lab. I think that might be your best strategy.
Yeah, that's why I didn't quite want to pop in -- would seem too much like a surprise.

I did go by the lab today, however, just reading some of the research posters they had up and a grad student went by and asked if I needed anything. I think I might just chat with them a bit more to find out more about the current projects.

With the professor I already contacted -- yes, that was what I was initially trying to do, actually. It didn't work quite as well as I wanted to, however. I think I might just email them again, inquire about the possibilities of volunteering, see what they say, and then submit my information.

Thanks for all of your help thus far, though -- I really do appreciate it a lot.
Thanks for the response! Hm, I'm not exactly sure what to do right now. I had spoken to one particular professor about some of the projects she is involved with (this was at an open research night held by my school). I then sent her an email inquiring about it and asked if I could meet with her to find out more about it, but she didn't accept/decline. It's likely because many other students emailed her about positions and probably does not have the time to meet with each one of us.

So now I am not sure if I should persist with meeting her in person or if I should just send her all of my information. Should I express any of my concerns before giving her my information? And if I do inquire about becoming a volunteer, should I also do that before giving her my info? After? I'm not really sure how I should go about doing this now...since I don't want to ruin the slight chance I have.

With volunteering -- it's not necessarily frowned upon. I think some professors are just a bit hesitant because they do worry they'll take on a student that is just going to go, "I'M BORED OF PIPETTING. I'M NEVER COMING BACK" and consequently, they waste time and money on said student. That sort of thing, you know? And while I want to express interest, I'm worried about coming off as desperate. I just don't want them to think I'm some sad job willing to snag ANY position I get...although I feel like I am being pushed to that point right now :/.

When she responded to my email, though, she wrote the following (I edited some parts out) in case you are interested.

I really do appreciate your response, though. Thanks again!


Thanks for your interest in our research, and it was nice to see you at the open house sessions, hopefully some of the advice helps you out in the future. Due to the number of interested student responses I've received, we [her lab + other professor she works with] plan on meeting with our group in late January early February to discuss new students for the spring and summer sessions. If you are interested please send us your curriculum vitae (CV)/ resume and a copy of your unofficial transcripts. It would be ideal if you can apply for funding, the deadline for this approaches soon (sometime in early Jan or Feb? (see the link below)) If you can't get funding, then we'll see how many students we can support, so far I think we have sufficient funding to support 3 students. Students who are able to secure funding will likely be accepted for summer research immediately.
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