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What are the best ways to get involved in research?

See what Natalie from Women in Mechanical Engineering (WME) has to say about things to do in high school to set yourself up for success in engineering.


Q: What are the best ways to get involved in research?

A: There are endless possibilities here! UT has so many programs available to help you get started with research. The most notable one is probably the Freshman Introduction to Research in Engineering, or FIRE, program. As you might have assumed, this one is only open to first-years, so you have to apply before you get to UT. If you’re like me and you *missed the deadline* for FIRE (oops!), there’s also GLUE!

Graduates Linked with Undergraduates in Engineering, or GLUE, is a research program run by WEP and geared towards engaging 2nd and 3rd year underrepresented students who have no prior research experience. Here’s some quick facts about GLUE:

· It has a weekly seminar, plus like 5-10 hours a week of research

· They will try to match you with a program that fits your interests

· There are short weekly writing assignments (sort of like a diary)

· It is frontloaded – most of the work is done towards the beginning of the semester, so you can focus on other classes around midterms and finals

· One of the assignments is a faculty interview – so you have an excuse to talk to a professor whose research interests you!

· In the seminar portion of the class, you will learn about grad school – super helpful if you haven’t figured out your post-graduation plans or if you are a first-gen student!

· It is effort based, not results based – sometimes you don’t discover anything super noteworthy, and that’s ok! It’s all about the experience.

Overall, I really enjoyed GLUE! It motivated me to learn content in my other classes because I knew it would help me with my research. I didn’t invent the lithium-ion battery or anything, but I still feel like I accomplished a lot and learned more about the opportunities available to me! If you’re interested, you can find more info about GLUE here.

Q: Is it too forward to email a professor you've never met and ask them about working in their lab? Should you apply for grants before you start working in a lab?

A: It’s totally ok to approach a professor about working in their lab! The worst that could happen is that they could say no, or just not respond at all. More than likely, though, they’ll be happy to talk with you and will probably put you in touch with a grad student to show you around the lab.

However, you’re more likely to get a positive response if the professor knows you from a course you took with them. Try going to office hours a few times and ask them about their research if it interests you. They may even offer for you to work in their lab, or suggest that you initiate an individual project that they supervise. You can find out which professors do research in your area of interest by looking at the faculty directory.

As far as applying for grants, in my experience that is taken care of by the PI (Principal Investigator; fancy name for “professor in charge of the lab”) and/or grad students. They may involve you in that process once you have been working there for a while, but I don’t see any need to do it beforehand. You might want to apply for grants if you are working on an individual project, but it’s probably best to start doing something related to the research first so that you have a justification for why you need the grant and can give some tangible examples of what you have accomplished.

Undergraduate research can be a life-changing experience and help you get into graduate school! At the very least, it’s another line on your resume and a talking point in conversations with recruiters or parents wondering what their tuition money is paying for. Either way, it’s totally worth a shot! Whether you decide to get involved through a structured program, or just go rogue and email a professor, I think research is a great opportunity to consider!


You can find WME on social media here!

Instagram: @texaswme

Women in Mechanical Engineering (WME) is a tight-knit community dedicated to helping female mechanical engineers at UT Austin expand their networks, develop improved professional and academic skills, and ultimately become the next-generation of female leaders in STEM.

This blog post was written by Natalie Jaecks, a mechanical engineering junior and the Outreach Chair for Women in Mechanical Engineering.

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