SIM supports the research arm of Immersion Vanderbilt by providing students with the opportunity to learn more about how students engage in research at Vanderbilt and by providing tools for students to work with research labs through events such as the Research Match. Such events help students engage in research that is meaningful to them while forming important connections with members of the Vanderbilt faculty.

Summer Research Opportunities

Navigating Your Research Lab

How should you talk to your PI and your mentor? How can students go into their lab and know their limits and not get taken advantage of?

Starting in a lab, especially as a freshman who hasn’t gotten the lay of the land of Vanderbilt, and navigating a position as a research intern can be scary and intimidating. One of the things that students find the most trouble with is striking the perfect balance between following the things their PIs (principal investigators) tell them to do while still maintaining a grasp on doing the things that they are interested in.

The most important thing when starting in a lab is being direct with the things that you are trying to get out of your undergraduate research experience. I set up a meeting with my PI where we laid out what my role in the lab would look like and planned out the specifics of the project that I would be helping with. Not every PI is open to undergraduates having their own projects just as not every PI is open to publishing student work either. If these are things that are important to you, make sure that they are important to your PI as well. Sometimes, PIs are new to having undergraduates in their space and don’t know that there are things that we might want to clarify before starting on our research path with them so it takes a little bit of initiative to email them and schedule that one-on-one face time that is so essential. This also helps to foster a better relationship with your PI later down the road because it prevents any big misunderstandings about future steps and general expectations.

Most PIs are very strapped for time and are constantly inundated with communication, whether they are in meetings all the time or at conferences or constantly being emailed by faculty and peers. Be mindful of this when you’re planning a time or an opportunity to meet with them; I would suggest being extremely flexible with your schedule and being able to accommodate and understand the hectic schedule of your PI. While in any type of meeting with your PI, be attentive and don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for clarification.  This discrepancy in knowledge is totally acceptable and understandable, but we are responsible for bringing it to our PI’s attention.

In most labs, your PI is not your direct mentor. This is fairly common as most of the time, the PI is not the one conducting the experiments and tends to have other important things to take care of, leaving them less time to directly coach you. Developing a relationship with your direct mentor is also essential. They are the ones that can answer the specific questions about techniques and aims in the experiments that you are conducting. Some mentors allow a pretty large degree of freedom and independence to their undergraduates while others are a little more watchful and hands-on with their mentorship. Establishing rapport with your mentor also helps in your relationship with your PI because they will often communicate with each other about your performance or about what direction your project or your role in a project should take.

Being able to take a step back during your time conducting research and checking in about how you feel about your work is very very important. Ask yourself if you’re interested and engaged in what you’re doing. Do you know the purpose of every experiment you’re conducting and how it fits in to the big picture? Do you feel fulfilled in the tasks you’re pursuing or do you feel bored and uninterested? These are things that are better figured out earlier on because there are more opportunities for you to change your role or even your lab (if absolutely necessary).

Overall, just make sure you are being assertive of the things that you want to get out of lab research. Of course, make sure that you’re still being respectful of your PI’s wishes and their vision for your role in the lab, but like most things in life, other people may not know what you want if you don’t explicitly state it to them. Being direct and honest about what you want is an effective way to figure out if this lab is truly somewhere you will thrive. Establishing this line of open communication will not only help in the short-term, it will also make every interaction you have with your PI after this point much more efficient and productive. It may be intimidating at the start, but remember that if the PI is willing to take you into their lab, they see some sort of potential in your abilities and it is also in their best interests to cultivate that interest. Good luck in your journey through lab research!



How can you advocate for your name on a publication?


For all researchers, one of the biggest goals for anyone involved in a project is to be published for the work they do. For many individuals, this is a long and tedious process of continual revisions, rewrites, and repeated experiments. However, the recognition that you receive from publications can contribute greatly to your future careers as aspiring researchers, engineers, or physician scientists. They can lead to collaborations, sponsorships, as well as bigger grants. However, as undergraduates, many of you will find that you are not at the forefront of lab projects.

Here are some ways that you can do to help spearhead your involvement in projects in your lab:


Always keep track of the data you analyze!

Always try to organize the data you analyze into figures. Doing so clears your head on the experiments you will do, avoid confusion with your PI on certain experimental setups, and ultimately better yourself as a contributor to the lab. Furthermore, having great organization in the lab will garnish your reputation as a dependable student, and will earn you more places to contribute to projects which are ongoing in the lab. Successful contributions will lead to your name being recognized in a manuscript!

Don’t be afraid to present!

Presentation of your data in a laboratory will allow the other members in your lab to see what you are currently working on. This will show members of your lab what are you capable of doing as well as the fact that you are not afraid of showing the data that you analyzed yourself. This will ultimately show that you are very capable of carrying out the experiments that you are assigned.

Be engaged in the projects that others are involved in!

Interest and showing interest in a project that you potentially want to be involved in is a huge part in gaining opportunities to contribute in the lab. Ask questions about the projects that others are involved in and seek out advice from other members if you are in need of them. Doing so will tells other that you are engaged and well prepared to handle any trouble which may come your way. Others will be more inclined to have you help them with their experiments if they can trust you to persevere.