How to Find Research Opportunities
Undergraduate research opportunities in ornithology abound at Cornell. Getting involved in research can be as simple as helping a graduate student in the field for a few hours a week, or as intense as conducting your own undergraduate honors thesis, spending long hours crunching data and conducting research in some far-away field site.
Research becomes a central part of the college experience for some students. Every year, Cornell undergraduates make new ornithological discoveries, work with researchers in dozens of labs, and author many peer-reviewed papers. Cornell students often extend their research experiences by participating in scientific conferences, taking semesters abroad, or working at field sites around the world.
The life sciences world at Cornell is vast. This institutional breadth is a great asset to Cornell students, but it can be a bit daunting to navigate as you first search for research opportunities. How do you find the right mentor? A compelling project? A fun lab group?
There is really no one-stop-shopping strategy for research opportunities. The best approach is to assess your options while seeking advice from as many people as possible. Browse the Mentors & Courses section of this website to find out who is doing what with birds all around Cornell. At the same time, talk to people you already know (fellow undergrads, your professors, faculty advisors, TAs) or to the knowledgeable and well-connected staff in the Office of Undergraduate Biology.
Keep two things in mind: first, almost everybody is initially a bit nervous about contacting potential research sponsors. Perseverance will pay off. Second, Cornell is a friendly place, and virtually all scientists love to talk to students who show an interest in what they do outside of the lecture hall.
Many research opportunities arise serendipitously. Keep an eye out for posted internships and research assistantships, but be sure to contact potential mentors directly as well. Visit relevant professors during their office hours, or contact researchers to set up a meeting time. Note that direct contact by phone or by walking into a lab is often more productive than sending an email. Most faculty get hundreds of emails each day so there is a real risk that your query will get lost.
If you are sending an email query, describe your interests and background in the message. Be as concrete as possible about why you are interested in their area of research and in working with that particular person. Describe any relevant skills or experiences that you already have, but don’t be afraid to say that you are just starting out. Be sure to ask the recipient to forward your email to their lab group and other Cornell colleagues if they aren’t in a position to take you on themselves.
Where to Look for Undergraduate Research Jobs
- The Office of Undergraduate Biology has various resources for finding research positions, including a topical search engine and a listing of formally posted open positions. Using their search engine, search “bird” and “birds” as well as “ornithology.”
- The undergraduate research pages for the University and the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences provide listings and application materials for various undergraduate research grant programs.
- The many research programs at the Cornell Lab and the research groups of individual Lab faculty are great places to look for opportunities. Be sure to check out the Lab’s job listings, which include opportunities for student and volunteer positions.
- The Cornell Museum of Vertebrates, located in the same building as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, involves volunteer and paid student assistants in museum curation, specimen preparation, and fieldwork. Email contacts are Collection Manager Charles Dardia and Curator of Birds and Mammals Vanya Rohwer.
- Cornell’s Shoals Marine Lab is located on Appledore Island off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. Appledore has large gull and tern colonies that are the focus of active research programs; it’s also known for incredible migration fallouts. Shoals offers two ways to gain summer research experience: Take a class in Field Ornithology or Seabird Conservation; or apply for a paid summer internship. The Shoals Marine Lab office on campus is in room G-14 Stimson Hall.
- The Cornell Biological Field Station on Oneida Lake is administered by the Department of Natural Resources and has an active summer research internship program for undergrads.
- Braddock Bay Bird Observatory is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ornithological research, education, and conservation located near Rochester, New York. The observatory operates a field research station where approximately 10,000 passerines of 120 species are banded annually during spring and fall migration. The organization has many connections with the Cornell Lab. Banding courses, internships, and field trips to experience bird banding are often possible. For more information, visit the BBBO website or contact David Bonter.
- Audubon’s renowned Seabird Restoration Program is headquartered at the Cornell Lab. This program offers summer internships for undergrads regarding seabird conservation and management on various islands in Maine. Email Rosalie Borzik for more details.
A tried-and-true next step in gaining research experience is to become a student field assistant. Researchers at Cornell and beyond are always looking for field help—and in recent years, adventurous Cornell undergrads have headed off to projects across North America and in countries like Borneo, Kenya, Peru, Paraguay, and South Africa. Here’s how to find opportunities:
- You can find an extensive jobs forum at the Ornithology Exchange.
- The Animal Behavior Society hosts a more topical listing of open internships and jobs.
- The National Science Foundation funds Research Experience for Undergraduates internships at dozens of sites, mostly within the United States. A bit of browsing in the “Biological Sciences” section can tell you which REU opportunities involve birds.