Information for Potential Volunteers

I regularly receive emails from students on campus seeking volunteer opportunities in my laboratory.  I thank you for the interest, but am taking time here to compose a thoughtful answer to how I make decisions on these emails.  If you are a student who has taken my course, much of this is not very relevant since you will have had a chance to speak to me or at least I will know you personally.  If you are a student who has never taken a course with me, I suggest you read this.

I understand where you are coming from.  I was once an undergraduate, and l approached my professors looking for a “job” in the lab.  I know this dates me, but I used to approach professors in their office, rather than email them, but I started with the professors who were teaching my courses.  Usually they knew or recognised me and guided me toward a place that better suited me.

It is very common for me to receive emails from very motivated students interested in volunteering in my lab who clearly denote their degree as allied with a medical field and that their stated goals are to go to medical school.  I applaud that you have these goals and hope you achieve them.  A number of students have done their honours thesis or summer research in my lab and have gone to veterinary or medical school and I have been pleased to have trained them.  I have also taught and conducted research at medical schools, so my comments are not to be misconstrued.  I am first and foremost, a basic scientist conducting research that is not obviously allied with the medical discipline (thus, funding is scarce!), and if I am to take on volunteers to what are limited opportunities, I feel I should prioritise those positions to students passionate about biology and or considering eventual graduate level research.  One thing that students on the medical school track are advised is to seek out volunteer positions.  Much as my lab is a great place to be (according to me!), I really wish to foster opportunities for students truly keen on biology and scientific research rather than professional track development.  So, if you are asking to volunteer only to pad your resume for medical school, then I will respectfully encourage you to look to a more appropriate venue.

In terms of actual volunteer opportunities, my graduate students are the best judges of whether they need volunteers.  For the most part, my lab is not too conducive to volunteers, since the university requires that all those who work in the lab have the appropriate training (safety, ethics approval, sanctioned by technicians on campus), which usually takes weeks before completion.  These requirements usually and perversely discourage volunteer activities.  As a result, the primary activity that volunteers end up doing is data analysis (usually digital video analysis), under the instruction and guidance of my graduate students.  For these reasons, I tend to advise that students seek first their teaching assistants in their undergrad labs (these are likely graduate students from across the department) and ask if they require volunteer assistance.  For my own lab, I have my graduate students listed on this website, along with their contact information and project area.  You may wish to contact them individually.

I will from time to time update this webpage if situations change or if the lab is actively looking for volunteers, so stay tuned for opportunities, or for more generic opportunities, follow my facebook site ( or the Department of Biological Sciences Facebook site (  Various announcements from other members of the department or summer job adverts do occasionally get posted there.  The university itself has some useful sites here and here that encourage student involvement on campus and/or with research.  Volunteering is not the only way to get involved!

For more information on how a research lab might respond to your request, I’ve found a few good blogs that nicely summarise the situation from the student and professor perspective: