by Sara Calvert-Kubrom, former admissions officer at Lewis & Clark College
This time of year high school students often ask me for advice on how to spend their summer. Although there are countless rewarding ways to utilize school breaks for personal and intellectual growth, I have recently been struck by the benefits of research mentorships for several of my students. For a student who is passionate about a particular subject, highly motivated, and looking to expand their educational experience beyond high school courses, independent research projects with the support of an academic mentor can be powerful opportunities.
Last year one of my students who aspires to be a neurosurgeon was mentored by a Resident Physician at Yale-New Haven as she researched the impacts of dementia. Her project culminated with the creation of her own podcast that she was able to include on her college application. Not only was it empowering to have something uniquely hers to list on her application, but she gained academic and personal confidence, grew intellectually, and was proud of her finished product. As a young woman of color who is on a mission to be a change maker in improving healthcare access for the Black community, it was also a powerful experience for her to have a Black female professional mentor.
Here are a few helpful tips, examples, and resources for finding research mentorships like this:
- Network and don’t be afraid to ask! Think about everyone you know—teachers, parents, parents of friends, faith leaders, coaches, community members—and ask who they know that could be a research mentor in a field of interest. Although colleges and business may not publish research opportunities on their websites, they may be open to a mentorship if asked. Mentored research does not need to be offered via a pre-existing program; it is all about finding ways for a student to have a distinctive and interesting opportunity to deeply explore their interests.
- Science Buddies provides helpful guidance on ways to find a mentor.
- PBS sponsors a program called the Emperor Science Awards that helps connect students with science mentors.
- Some colleges and universities host research mentorship programs like the University of California Santa Barbara Research Mentorship Program. Reach out to colleges in your area to inquire if they have opportunities like this.
Will a research mentorship help a student get into a highly selective college? Maybe. One experience alone will not make or break a student’s chance of admission, but research opportunities will certainly strengthen a student’s application by showcasing their intellectual curiosity, independence, maturity, and motivation to use their free time to explore their intellectual interests. Research is also a great opportunity to authentically explore interests to help a student determine where they want to go to college, what they might want to study, and learn about possible career pathways. It is also a lovely way for a student to form a meaningful relationship with an adult mentor that can boost their confidence and equip them with skills that will set them up for success in college and beyond.