How I got in Whalen’s Lab

As another internship season approaches, many friends are asking me how I got my summer 2017 biology research position without having taken any biology at Haverford. [1]

The process was not straightforward. I set out considering a major at Bryn Mawr, then halfway switched to Swarthmore, and ended up determined, “If biology, then Haverford.” Last summer was to get a taste of biology at Haverford.

Once the decision was made, I immediately reached out to Professor Whalen, whom I had chatted with at academic tea, a casual gathering of all departmental representatives at the beginning of every semester, to answer students’ questions. I had also browsed professors’ Haverford webpages, where their CVs and research directions are listed. Although my tentative major was biology, I could not understand the content of any project our biology professors listed. Still, marine science, drug resistance, and a photo of Professor Whalen smiling from a solid blue ocean-sky background attracted me above all.

I sent out my first email on Dec. 22, 2016, and went to play in New Haven. When I came back, a reply had lain in my mailbox since the day I left — what a quick response! To day, Professor Whalen’s efficiency is still surprising, motivating, and scaring me from time to time. Back then, I immediately arranged to meet with my first-ever mentor.

She showed me all her undertakings and some summer opportunities, and asked me to show up at lab meetings the coming semester. Since I could only work on-campus as an international student, we decided to begin with the “bacterial response to a chemical” project ongoing at her lab. That was it! I became part of Whalen’s lab. When the summer scholarship application season came, she instructed me to apply (Kovaric Fellowship [2]). When I failed, she applied funding from Provost for me, so I could get paid. Everything was settled as early as Mar.18, 2017, after which I just sat back and pictured the richness of the coming summer.


Takeaways for new applicants:

  1. Start collecting information early; browse professor/institution’s webpages, and from there find out more
  2. After narrowing down your choices, reach out (sometimes it takes longer to receive reply; don’t feel discouraged or overly anxious)
  3. Academic tea is a great space to ask any lay (or expert) questions about subject/ courses/ major/ internship/ …; professors are there for you
  4. Don’t be afraid if professor’s research seems hard to understand!


[1] only sophomores and above could take biology courses at Haverford

[2] funding opportunities please see: