written by
Adonis Rubio

Finding STEM Research Opportunities at Stanford University

Advisor Tips 7 min read

STEM Research at Stanford

Stanford University is a world-renowned research institute ranking #2 on Forbes’ Top Colleges in 2019 and #2 on Forbes’ Research Universities lists. The university strongly believes that integrating research along with your academics and interest is a great way to dive deeper into an area of study. With 18 interdisciplinary institutes like Bio-X and ChEM-H, Stanford continuously bridges the vast experiences of their lab to create a holistic approach to research. And with Stanford Hospital just a quick bike away and other nearby research centers like Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), there is a multitude of ways for undergraduates to get involved in STEM research.

Stanford University Campus by Jason Leung | Source: Unsplash

How to Find a STEM Research Experience

It’s never too early to begin looking at research opportunities at Stanford. And unlike other research institutions, you can begin STEM research as early as freshman year! While it may be daunting to be at a research institute at Stanford, it is important to realize that there are many research opportunities available—you just need to find the right fit.

Talk to the STEM department student services officers.

Typically, each department on campus will have their own student services office. You do not have to declare a major to speak with the student services office— you can just let them know that you are a prospective student looking for research opportunities.

If you are looking for STEM-specific research experiences, you can reach out to the Stanford Human Biology (HumBio), Biology, and Bioengineering departments. Both the HumBio and Biology departments also have undergraduate students who work alongside the student services office to help you navigate their department’s undergraduate experience. They are also there to help you approach professors and graduate students as you talk about research.

Be sure to sign up for student services listservs to get consistent updates about new opportunities for undergraduates. For example, the Biology department’s weekly newsletter features a Google Sheet listing all their current research opportunities.

Take advantage of the staff and student advisors who are there to help you navigate the vast research options available at Stanford! You can email them or make appointments to ask them about what research opportunities are currently open on campus.

Talk to your faculty members and advisors.

It is a good rule of thumb to try and connect with your faculty at Stanford. You never know when you may need a letter of recommendation, academic advice, or in this case, someone to ask about research opportunities.

Take advantage of the faculty and lecturers to ask about what pportunities there are on campus. Given Stanford’s interdisciplinary nature, you will be surprised how easily your professors can connect you to the person you need, even if they’re in another department entirely.

When I was in my chemistry series during my freshman year, I met with my professors and asked about what virology and immunology labs they knew of. They were immediately able to give me a list of professors to reach out to and some tips for how to approach them. So, feel free to talk to your professors about what your interests are in. If there’s a professor that you are interested in working with, don’t be afraid to ask if they are looking for any undergraduate researchers!

Pacific Northwest National Laboratories researchers at the Bioproducts Sciences and Engineering Laboratory at WSU-Tri-Cities use a robot to prepare high throughput samples for a variety of projects.
STEM Research by Science in HD | Source: Unsplash

Reach out to the STEM research institutes on campus.

As mentioned above, Stanford is home to numerous research institutes. These have been structured around the extraordinary professors and research graduate programs offered at Stanford. The beauty of Stanford is that all of these institutes are located on or very near campus.

I would especially recommend reaching out to Bio-X and ChEM-H. Both of these programs have research labs in broad areas of STEM research and already have undergraduate research programs set up. Speaking to their staff or looking into faculty associated with these programs will help you find a set of faculty who are open to working with undergraduates.

Take IntroSems classes during your first two years.

Stanford offers a unique set of classes during the freshman and sophomore years that allow students to explore a new field of interest. Known as IntroSems, or introductory seminars, these classes tend to be capped at 20 students, offering a space to connect with your peers and with the faculty.

I took a Pathology IntroSem class my sophomore year and have since continued to meet with my class and professor throughout my undergraduate career—an IntroSem can truly create a lasting bond. Also, these classes tend to be taught by professors who are committed to involving undergraduates in their research.

Recently, Stanford has created a new program called IntroSems Plus. This program allows IntroSems faculty to nominate several students in their course who they would like to mentor and conduct research with. In the quarter following the IntroSem class, these students are then paired with upperclassmen and their faculty mentor to develop and execute their own research project with the goal of developing an eportfolio of their work.

Getting in a research experience allows the student to develop work that they can then show other potential faculty mentors. Taking these courses and forming a close relationship with these faculty opens up doors for students to conduct research for a quarter and get a taste for what they may enjoy.

Coordinate with student organizations.

Stanford is filled with other undergraduate students who have been in your shoes and have paved their own paths in research. Several student organizations have been formed that focus on the introduction and development of research skills. Among these, both the Stanford Undergraduate Research Association (SURA) and the Stanford Premedical Association (SPA) offer extensive opportunities for undergraduates to get involved with campus research.

Students can get more acquainted with these organizations at the Fall Activities Fair and the Spring Activities Fair (in fall and spring quarter, respectively). SURA hosts mixers throughout the year that allow for undergraduates to be paired with graduate research mentors, offers research development workshops, and even host their own research conference in April.

There are also several student organizations that are geared towards helping students from varying backgrounds succeed in STEM research. These support organizations include, but are not limited to, Stanford SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in STEM), oSTEM (Out in STEM), and SOLE (Society of Latino Engineers). There are many different student organizations on campus that are willing to help with how to get involved with research at Stanford and how to thrive in those research environments.

Test tubes in metal rack. Concept for science, medical, research.
Photographer: Bill Oxford | Source: Unsplash

There will be an opportunity for you!

If you are looking for summer research experiences, all the tips mentioned above still apply. It would also be important to look at institutes for any summer internships programs they have like Bio-X and ChEM-H.

Beyond the core STEM research institutes at Stanford, there are also ways to get involved in a lab that doesn’t involve wet-lab work. For example, there are exceptional opportunities in computational research, translating research journals to be more understandable by the public, and analyzing the impacts of STEM research from their ethics to their risks to humanity. Stanford Health Advocacy and Research in the Emergency Department (SHARED) is also a unique research opportunity at Stanford Hospital Emergency Department for those interested in health and pre-medical studies.

But the most important thing that I have learned is that research at Stanford is about getting experience. I started off in my research lab with no basic biology classes or research experience. To my surprise, faculty and professors were okay with this - they wanted to give me an environment to learn. But it is important to always demonstrate your passion and interest in the research. After joining my lab in freshman year and working with them for almost three years now, I am currently writing up a manuscript for publication in a research journal as the first author (main author) with my graduate students and professor.

At Stanford, there is something for everyone. And if there isn’t, don’t hesitate to reach out to your professors, friends, alumni and other undergraduates! I am also happy to answer any questions I can about my own experience.

Some Important Links:

https://www.stanford.edu/research/

https://biox.stanford.edu/

https://chemh.stanford.edu/

https://undergrad.stanford.edu/opportunities/research

https://beam.stanford.edu/


This informational essay was written by Adonis Rubio, Stanford ‘21. Adonis is open to setting up time to talk about Stanford’s campus life, research environment and making the most of your research experience. If you want to get help writing your Stanford application essays from Adonis or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

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