How to find research experience during your studies

Posted in: Careers Resources, Interviews, Tips & Hints

Our focus in Careers this month is on ways you can find work experience; ranging from formal internships, volunteering to sourcing opportunities speculatively. Do have a look on MyFuture for a wealth of resources including recordings of our recent talks. We know a significant number of our students are considering a research career in STEM disciplines as well as in humanities and social sciences. It is worth noting, a  research career can be varied and is possible in a wide range of environments. The Career Trend website provides a useful summary which is definitely worth a read you may want to reflect on how you'd like your research career to look. In this blog we are going to focus on ways you can gain research experience, especially if you are considering a PhD.

Advertised Opportunities

The Careers team at Queen Mary – University of London have pulled together a comprehensive list of scientific research opportunities in the UK and overseas. Many opportunities are open to students in their middle year of study with some schemes requiring a clearly defined research project. Our advice is to explore the opportunities in detail and to pay particular attention to the application criteria. The COVID pandemic has impacted research activity with some schemes on hold especially if restrictions have resulted in lab closures.

These opportunities can be competitive therefore do engage with our resources on writing an effective CV, cover letter and completing application forms. A one-to-one appointment with an applications adviser can be invaluable as well as attending our workshops on interviews.

Speculative Opportunities

Apart from applying for advertised opportunities, you may be able to find part-time and/or short – term research work through a speculative approach, whether this is during your degree or after graduation. In addition, networking with academics in your field of interest may also open your eyes to long term opportunities within academia and in industry.

Sometimes an academic will need extra research support due to a successful funding application. This can be during term – time and during the holidays, and my advice is to connect with your personal tutor first and then show your interest by speaking to the academics in your interest fields of research. You never know what a polite and motivated email or (virtual) meeting can lead to. And if there is nothing available right now, try again later! As one academic colleague once said; “it is all about timing and luck, so reach out at different points in the academic year and make certain academics know that you are interested”. In addition, sometimes a PhD student needs a bit of extra support, so that is another avenue to pursue. Lastly, sometimes your department will email out specific research opportunities, so make sure to read your emails. Keep your ears to the ground and share your research interest with your tutors.

Our top resources for speculative research:

  1. Learned Societies are committed to promoting a particular academic discipline or profession. Many host regular networking events, conferences and sponsor academic journals. These communities are an excellent way to identify individuals who share your research interests and to explore speculative opportunities for work experience. Wikipedia offers a list of learned societies by If you are interested in Biosciences do explore this resource.
  2. Research Gate is a like LinkedIn but for scientists and researchers. You can connect with researchers in your field of interest. Of course, you can also use the site to network and ask for advice. Setting up a profile is easy, have a look at the information here.
  3. Science Parks are a business support and technology transfer initiative that encourage start-up incubation between academic institutions and industry. There are over 100 UK Science Parks supporting nearly 4000 companies who are worth approaching for work shadowing and work experience opportunities.

This post has been written jointly by Aste Dahl and Saiyada Fazal, Careers Advisers.

Posted in: Careers Resources, Interviews, Tips & Hints


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