By Brendan Hogan, OUR Peer Research Ambassador
Getting started in research can be tricky. There are many details to consider. You may be wondering what kind of research you want to do, when you want to work on a project, or even who to contact in order to get started. Out of all these concerns, one of your priorities should be ensuring that you advocate for yourself while working under, or in collaboration with, a mentor.
It can be daunting to advocate for yourself when you are trying to successfully land a research position without any experience. You may want to take the first offer you are given. Once involved, you may try to avoid any conflict or differences of opinion with your mentor. Getting involved in research does not have to conflict with your ability be your own advocate. Incorporating self-advocacy into your research experience will allow you to make the most of the experience and fully realize your goals.
Advocating for Your Interests
Self-advocacy comes in many forms. Self-advocacy can arise from your decision to find a mentor that aligns with your interests. Take time to consider what intrigues you about a certain field of research. Use various UConn resources like Lincus, UConn Department pages, and the Daily Digest to read about current projects, labs, and research studies at UConn. This allows you to immerse yourself in the field you are considering and find a topic that interests you. From there, you can then advocate for your interests by reaching out to professors that are carrying out work on similar topics. When emailing them, make sure to explain that you are interested in the topic they are studying and that you would like to learn more about it (For more information on how to write emails, check out this page).
Advocating for Support
When you join a lab or research project, you can (and should) continue to advocate for yourself through maintaining an open dialogue with your faculty mentor. While working with mentors, make sure you communicate regularly and discuss the progression of your work. As your mentor, they can provide insight and guidance to support your research. This may come in the form of various sources to review, a new method to approaching problems you face, or even help with editing research reports. You are your own advocate, so continuously work to reach out to your mentor and seek guidance when appropriate. Be honest with them when discussing the workload and consider discussing with them any questions or concerns you may have. Further, if you are confused or need help, reach out to them and be honest. By doing this, you can maintain a professional relationship with your mentor and demonstrate your dedication to your work, and still advocate for yourself.
Advocating for Your Future
There may come a time in your research when you realize you are ready to move forward, or perhaps move on. Maybe you’ve worked on a project for a few semesters, have developed a strong connection to the lab or research group, and are ready to take on more responsibility. Maybe you want to work alongside a different professor, change topics, or apply for a research grant (see the various awards OUR offers). Regardless, advocating for yourself and your goals is crucial. To help with your next steps, recognize what you’ve been able to accomplish, acknowledge the shortcomings or gaps of the research you completed, and meet with your mentor and discuss your goals and plans for the future. If you’re ready to move on, explain how you would like to pursue a new project, while also expressing your gratitude for their time and resources they provided. By clearly communicating all this, you should be able to maintain an amicable, professional relationship with your mentor, while also moving on to your next project.
Throughout the duration of your undergraduate research experience, you should advocate for your interests and goals. This type of advocacy can come in the form of connecting with a professor that has similar interests as you, continuously communicating with your mentor, or even moving on to a new research project. In any situation, it is important to ensure that you are happy with your choices and willing to dedicate your time and effort towards your research. By doing this, you can take part in intriguing work, expand your experiences, and grow as a professional undergraduate researcher.
Brendan is a senior majoring in Political Science, Psychological Science, and Philosophy. Click here to learn more about Brendan.