When I was in college, I was a pretty mediocre student. I knew that my grades weren’t going to get me a great job after graduation, but I had read that doing research with a professor was looked on favorably. I wasn’t particularly interested in research, but it was the lead I had.
I went to my advisor and asked her if I could do a research project with her and she was delighted. A few weeks later, she invited me to a “Women in Science and Engineering” event she was organizing at NYU. It got my brain churning and, as I walked home along the south side of Washington Square Park, I suddenly realized that NYU did not have any sort of club for women interested in CS. I’d love to say how I altruistically thought such a club would encourage more women to pursue CS, but honestly I just thought that would look fantastic on my resume. I quickly sent out an email to the CS students and founded a club. Thus, Women in Computing was born (as a side note, it is still flourishing and doing good in the world, so that’s something).
After that, I saw an advertisement that Google had a scholarship to attend the Grace Hopper Conference. Well, with my research project and being the founder of Women in Computing, I was a shoe-in. The conference was my first tech conference and I was wandered around in a haze of free pens and teeshirts, asking companies about summer internships. At the Goldman Sachs booth, the woman took one look at my resume (research, founding Women in Computing, winning the Grace Hopper Scholarship) and offered me an internship on the spot. I accepted.
When I got back to NYC, I saw a poster for the big fish: Google’s Anita Borg scholarship. I applied for that and, thanks to all of my prior accomplishments, won. This helped me win an award for my research and an NSF grant for grad school, which all contributed to me getting into every PhD program that I applied to.
So, it turned out that doing a research project with a professor was pretty good way to bootstrap success, although perhaps not in the way it usually works.