Regardless of their future career interests, high school students who are curious and enjoy discovering answers to questions should consider research. Research isn’t restricted to just the STEM field; there are countless questions in every field that need to be answered.
Research can be a life-changing experience for a high schooler. It gives them a chance to gain hands-on instruction beyond the classroom and be exposed to the dynamics of a lab environment. In addition, students learn how to work with others as they gain analytical, quantitative and communication skills.
Participating in research can also give students a competitive edge when applying to college. This is especially true for candidates of BS/MD programs, where medical-focused activities are expected. Some BS/MD programs, like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s 7-Year Program, are specially designed to train future physician-scientists.
How To Pursue Research
While many students want to secure a research position, it isn’t always easy to know how to get started and make progress. Here are a few different methods students can pursue to gain research experience.
Look For Local Research Projects
Depending on where you live, you might be able to find local labs at universities, hospitals or companies where you can get research experience. Start local first to see what types of positions might be available to students.
When reaching out, add a cover letter that is tailored to each specific organization. You should introduce yourself in a way that demonstrates your academic background, your interest in their research and how you would like to contribute on a voluntary basis. The email should also include your CV or resume so that they can see any relevant coursework or experiences you may have.
When sending out these emails, remember to cast a wide net. These organizations are getting emails from college and graduate students, too, so you might need to email quite a few people before you get a response. If you don’t hear back within two weeks, send a follow-up email. Oftentimes, persistence pays off.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions or if you don’t have local options available, you can also consider virtual opportunities. Virtual work might be a good option due to the flexibility that often accompanies it.
However, cold-emailing professors or companies can be time-consuming and a risk. Even if you secure a position, you need to ensure that you are being flexible and realistic. Some positions might only be available during the hours students are at school, so expecting to get a position that will work around your class schedule or weekends only might be unrealistic. Having open availability and working on their timetable will make more opportunities feasible.
In addition, for these types of positions, you will need to show you can add value. This might require you to learn new skills on your own time, like a new coding language, so you can contribute to the success of the project.
Join A Summer Camp Or Structured Research Program
A structured research program can be the most beneficial experience for students because there is often a clear plan in place: students are expected to show up for a set number of hours per week and have clearly established deliverables on what will be accomplished during that time.
Camps like Rising Researchers, which are open to high school students of all ages, even give students college credit and help the students get their research published at the end of the camp. Nicole Cooksey, one of the instructors at Rising Researchers, says, “Rising Researchers helps students go beyond static learning—the hands-on camp means students acquire new skills and the ability to write a research paper.”
Some parents might hesitate to commit to a paid summer camp. While many of the most prestigious summer camps like Research Summer Institute (RSI)and Texas Tech’s Clark Scholars program are free, they are often very competitive and only open to students over the age of 16 or 17. Paid programs can be a good alternative because it still provides students with dedicated instructors whose sole focus will be on mentoring the student.
Start An Independent Research Project
Pursuing independent research is another option, but it is not a good fit for every student because it requires long-term commitment and dedication in order to make progress. Students who undertake this task should be prepared to spend at least a year from start to finish researching, writing their paper and submitting it for publication. The review and publication step can often take the longest, sometimes more than one year. For high school seniors, this could mean their paper might not be published before college application season kicks off.
How To Get Started
For the self-starters who want to begin an independent research project, the first step should be to make a list of your future career interests. Writing it down can help you decide what areas of research you might want to consider. Next, read previous research journals to get an idea of topics that might be of interest to you and possible to do on your own.
Once you have settled on a general topic, think about what questions you want to ask and answer in your research. These questions will help you create your thesis statement, which should address a specific question or problem.
The final step is to gather your sources and begin writing your paper. Look for resources from reputable sites, such as:
PubMed: A great tool for finding research articles on a variety of subjects
PubMed Central: Curates research articles without paywalls
Google Scholar: Find Primary literature on all scientific topics
Directory of Open Access Journals: Find additional open-access journals here
CDC - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Public Library of Science: find peer-reviewed articles for free
Add Research To Your Student Resume
Undertaking a research project when you are still in high school requires effort on your part, but your persistence can pay off. Adding research to your student resume can help you stand out to competitive colleges and demonstrate a strong passion for a particular subject.