Everyone is looking for it, everybody knows that everyone else is looking for it, and everybody wants to know how they can experience it too. I’m not talking about love here (but I bet I could have fooled you), I’m talking about labs.
A majority of Hopkins students come to this school fully intending to find a lab to work in. Lab opportunities are everywhere, but landing a research job can sometimes be a more convoluted process than it seems. Some labs require you to take safety courses before you can be permitted inside of them, while others require prior experience, or even outside skills that you never expected you would need to have.
When I got here, a vicious cycle of questions seemed to constantly be running through my mind. When I finally sorted it out, I realized that the first question I needed to answer was “How am I supposed to work in a lab that wants me to have prior experience when everyone wants me to have prior experience?”
It’s a tricky question to tackle, but what I learned about half way through February is that not everyone is looking for someone who knows everything before they get there. Of course you need to educate yourself about the lab you’re applying for a position in and it’s good to know the work of the advisor you’ll be working under, but the wonderful thing about Hopkins being a research institution is that freshmen are expected to look for labs to work in; they are expected to find research opportunities, and more often than not, if you can find the right lab and make a longterm commitment, you can learn the tricks of the trade after you’ve gotten the job.
The best way to find a research position is to ask. Look up projects you’re interested in, or fields you want to explore, and see what your professors are working on. Dr. Gray, my professor for Introduction to Chemical and Biological Process Analysis (we call it Process by the way, because nobody has time to say the entire title) gave us a super helpful push at the beginning of the semester by giving a presentation on all of the research happening in the ChemBE department. It was great — I wrote down whose projects interested me most and prepared to write a few e-mails to see if any positions were open.
After reading up on the labs and their supervisors, I opened my e-mail to start writing some drafts, but in true procrastination fashion, I decided to open Facebook along with it. While mindlessly scrolling through the Hopkins Class of 2018 page, I happened upon a post recruiting MatSci, ChemBE, and BME freshmen interested in nanomedicine and drug delivery to send in their résumés.
For me, it was done and done. After some pretty hard hitting personal experiences with cancer and a desire to understand the genetics of the disease, I knew that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to learn more about the potential for nanomedicine to be utilized in cancer treatments. I sent in my résumé and held off on my other e-mails.
I was extremely lucky; within three days, I had scheduled an interview, and within a week I had a job. I am now currently working in the Hanes Lab at the Wilmer Eye Institute (a part of the Hopkins medical campus) in a sector that is studying different emulsion methods to make drug loaded nanoparticles for pancreatic cancer and ophthalmology. I’m fewer than two weeks in and I even got to spend a day making some of my own particles. If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is. I was fortunate enough that the opportunity practically fell into my lap, and perhaps it wasn’t the most conventional way to go about it, but I think I’m living the true Hopkins experience now.