Interviewing to work in a Research Lab

After choosing the faculty member you'd like to conduct research with, the next step is meeting with them to discuss joining their research group. We understand that your first meeting with a potential research mentor can be intimidating, and that's why we are here to help! It's completely normal to be nervous about the first meeting, but utilizing the information on this page will help you to be prepared. 

If you need additional help visit our drop-in advising hours.

Preparing for the Meeting

Do your own research on the faculty mentor

  • Make sure you know who you are meeting with and what research they focus on.
  • Look over the faculty’s research articles, LinkedIn profile, and review their curriculum vitae (which can be found online) to get a sense of their past work

 

Update your resume

  • Tailor your qualifications to the organization’s research focus
    • If you do not have any research experience, emphasize your academic experience! Include any specific courses or skills that may be applicable to the position.
  • Describe your past roles and any accomplishments 
  • Discuss any obstacles you faced and how you overcame them
  • Visit the Career Development Center's website for help creating or updating your resume!

 

Prepare any necessary materials to bring with you

  • Portfolio, resume, and a cover letter
  • Pen/Pencil
  • Notebook 

 

Prepare a set of questions you want to ask

Advice

  • Do you have strategies for researching remotely/online?
  • How often do you meet with your undergraduate mentees? 
  • Who can I reach out to if I have questions?

Flexibility

  • How many hours a week do undergraduate students in your lab normally work? Are my hours flexible?
  • Is it possible to work more than 5 hours per week? I am really interested in your work and willing to volunteer my time.
  • Is it possible to engage in research in person?
  • If possible, can I stay involved until the completion of this research project?

Working in the Research Group

  • What is the duration of your research project?
  • Is there any training I need to complete before starting the lab?
  • Are there any group meetings that I must attend?
  • What role will I be expected to play in your research?
  • What are the next steps for us moving forward?

Practicing your Responses

During the meeting, you may be asked some of the common questions from the various areas that are listed below. It is important to consider your responses before the meeting. Practice your answers by having someone ask you some of the questions.

This is an essential question in most interviews that allows the faculty member to learn more about who you are. It is important to include the correct information in your response to this question. Structure your answer so it provides faculty with enough information on who you are:  

  • What are your interests?
  • What are you currently working on?  
  • What have you worked on in the past?  
  • What are your future goals?  

*It can take about 3-5 minutes to answer these questions*

Tips for answering the "About Yourself" question:

  • Write out your responses 
  • Practice and highlight the key points of your answer 
  • Provide specific examples that have helped you get to where you are 
  • Highlight how their research aligns with your future and career goals


Example Responses: 

What are you interested in? What are you currently working on? 
"I have been interested in dairy cattle research for some time now and have had experience handling and obtaining urine, feces, and milk samples. One reason why I particularly enjoy working with cattle is that I’m more comfortable with cattle anatomy and the challenges that go along with it. Currently, I am a part-time employee at the Dairy Center.” 


What have you worked on in the past? Mention your strengths & abilities. 
“During my recent experience assisting in research, I was responsible for moving and handling cattle at the Dairy Center. I had to be an effective communicator for things to run smoothly. My real strength is my attention to detail. I pride myself on my reputation for following through and meeting deadlines. When I commit to doing something, I make sure it is completed on time." 

  • What are your interests? 
  • Tell me about your most significant accomplishments.
  • Have you worked in a lab before?
  • What skills did you gain from that experience?
  • What are your career goals?  
  • How do you see a research project fitting with those interests and goals?
  • What interests you about my research? 
  • Tell me about a project that required you to work as part of a team. What was that experience like?
  • What motivates you?
  • How do you prioritize your work?
  • How do you organize yourself? 
  • How will you balance academics and extracurricular activities alongside research? 
  • What is your biggest challenge professionally? How are you dealing with it?
  • Tell me about a time when you made a decision that resulted in unintended or unexpected consequences. How did you deal with that?
  • Tell me a time you disagreed with someone. How did you approach this disagreement/dispute?

During the Meeting

Be aware of your body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, speed, and eye contact. Take a second to breathe. Sit up straight, make frequent eye contact, and smile. It helps to stand up during phone interviews and video calls. Don't speak negatively or joke about past research experiences. Be respectful to every individual you meet during the entire research interview/meeting process. Remember to ask the questions you prepared. Be sure to dress appropriately. If you are unsure about what to wear, it's better to overdress than underdress.

Meeting Formats:

In Person 

  • Can be one-on-one, with other candidates, and/or with a panel of interviewers 
  • Body language and behavioral indicators are especially important 
  • Arrive at least 15 minutes early, but don't enter until the scheduled meeting time
  • Be sure to dress appropriately

 

Video

  • Usually, a two-way platform but can be pre-recorded  
  • Same behaviors & etiquettes as in-person 
  • Check internet connection ahead of time
  • Be in a quiet, well-lit environment with limited distractions
  • If you choose to use a background, only use something appropriate. 

Phone

  • Ensure you are in a quiet place with strong & clear reception
  • Non-verbal signals may not come across, but a smile will always come through in your voice!
  • Refrain from making jokes or talking negatively about past research groups. 

After the Meeting

  • Ask them about what you should expect next.
  • Send a follow-up email thanking them for their time and consideration at the end of the interview. In the follow-up email, make sure to ask any last-minute questions you may have.
  • Be patient! Professors may not be able to reply to your email right away. If 1-2 weeks have passed, send them a follow up email restating your interest in joining their research group. Feel free to visit drop-in advising hours for help writing this type of email.

Find more information on composing follow-up emails here!

Office of Undergraduate Research