Ever received a text saying something along the lines of: “smh srsly w/ever idc anywho ttyl g2g $ [insert pizza emoji here] rn”? I have, and let me just say, trying to decode those texts gave my brain a bigger workout than trying to understand my friend’s first-year calc homework.
When I first heard acronyms such as “ROP” and “ICM” tossed around in a couple of upper-years’ conversation about research opportunities, my brain had to work even harder to comprehend what they were saying. So I decided to go to a panel organized by Trinity College on research opportunities in the Humanities and Social Sciences to de-mystify this fog-ridden realm. The event had a wide variety of speakers, including two undergrad students, two Academic Dons, and a U of T rep for the Research Opportunity Program.
The first thing the panelists told us was that there are many different types of research opportunities, ranging from ROPs (Research Opportunity Programs) to ICMs (International Course Modules). Afterwards, they offered tips both on how to find research opportunities, as well how to make yourself an appealing candidate. Here are a few of them:
Seek out opportunities.
A glimpse at the list of ROPs currently running shows that projects in the Humanities and Social Sciences are rarer than their Psychology and Life Sciences counterparts. As such, consider seeking out opportunities beyond just the future ROP list going up in February. For example, check out the Career Learning Network under the “Work-Study” category, where profs sometimes post research opportunities. In addition, consider going to your program’s department and asking them directly if there are any current or future research opportunities available.
Get to know your profs.
Panelists stressed the importance of developing a relationship with at least a couple of profs to the point where they can put a name to your face. This will be easier for those who are in small seminar-like classes, but for big classes, such as those in the infamous Con Hall, visit your profs during office hours. Consider asking them if they’re currently pursuing any project or plan to in the future and let them know you’d be interested in working with them.
As well, if the profs come to know you, they themselves might invite you to do research with them, which had happened to one of the panelists. Needless to say, getting to know your prof may yield to potential research opportunities you might not have otherwise known about.
Ensure your application shows your interest in that particular project.
“This project interests me, and I would love the opportunity to pursue it!” A big no-no, according to the panelists. It’s too generic and screams I-copy-pasted-this-on-all-my-applications. Instead, craft your application to show why you’re interested in this particular project and working with this particular professor. Bonus points if you reference the professor’s works in your application to show that you’re interested in and knowledgeable about his or her research.
Just go for it.
Many students voiced their fears about not having a competitive application because they lack previous research experience. The panelists’ answer? “Just go for it.” The U of T rep told us that professors understand most students won’t have done research beforehand. What they’re looking for is a committed and motivated student who shows a keen interest in their project.
Hopefully, after reading this, your brain won’t have to work insanely hard to decode a conversation about research opportunities next time.
As for me, my next goal is: Understand internet lingo. Current status: OTL.
Do you have any tips on how to find research opportunities? Let me know in the comments below or through @lifeatuoft on Twitter!