Typically sooner than later, all pre-medical students will hear that besides a good GPA and MCAT score, you need:
- Shadowing experience
- Research experience
- Volunteer experience
to boost your medical school application.
It can seem overwhelming at first, having mind-boggling questions like, when will I have time for this? How do I do all of this? Where can I find these opportunities?
I will be writing a three-part blog series, this being the second part, to explain how I was able to get these opportunities and to give some advice about strategies in how to obtain these key experiences.
*DISCLAIMER: These experiences are to grow you as a student, an aspiring physician, and most importantly, a patient advocate. Do not go into this process and have the mindset of treating this as a checklist for your resumé. Be patient with the process, and enjoy the journey.
Research is not the deal-breaker in getting into medical school. If you are truly not interested in dabbling in the field of research to see if you want to implement that knowledge in your career in medicine, then don’t even worry about it. But, if you are having second thoughts, I say go ahead and try it out for a semester or two and size it up.
What is research?
There are typically two main categories of research that pre-medical students go into during the school year.
- Research lab– This is pretty self-explanatory. You work in a lab, studying anywhere from conditioning lab rats for fear to titrating chemicals to find the cure for cancer. Usually you can apply to join a research lab within your campus and work under a professor who is conducting a study, making it more convenient for you during school.
- Clinical Research– This is where you are able to help with a study by interacting with real people in the real world. Personally, this type of research interests me more, because I find it more relevant to what I want to do in the future. However, this type of research is the more difficult one to find for pre-medical students because typically, doctors are the ones conducting these studies, and most of the time they look for more experienced professionals, such as medical students, residents, fellows, or other physicians for help. This type of research is where you might try and recruit patients admitted in the hospital to join clinical studies they are eligible for, or collect data on patients with a Diabetes Type I and organize that data into a template and draw conclusions and statistical patterns, or simply do whatever the doctor says as he conducts a double-blind study on schizophrenic medicine.
How do you find research opportunities?
- Networking. This is such an important thing to while you are in college, whether it’s networking with your family, friends, professors, or physicians. Simply by asking people if they know of any research opportunities can take you a long way. In my opinion, this is the best way you can truly get involved with clinical research.
- Campus Professors. Literally google this: [your school name] [subject you are interested in (i.e, neuroscience)] research and go from there. Usually on your university page, there will be a tab on research that you can just click on and browse until you find professors who are conducting studies.
- Career/ Research Expos. Keep an eye out for those emails about career and research expos! This is an important event where the ones conducting research are there with booths and posters about their study and are looking for YOU! They are looking for students to help them with their research studies. Dress professionally, bring copies of your curriculum vitae (if you don’t know how to write one, click this), and take advantage of the expo! You can network through events like this, as well.
How do I apply?
- First, by email. Once you have looked at your university professors and picked a handful (or more) studies you might be interested in, email all of them! Someone is bound to email you back about the process.
Your email should:
- have an informative subject line
- be concise
- be formal
- have your CV and unofficial transcript (if applicable)
- not use Mrs. or Ms. (use Dr. or Professor instead!)
- NOT have slang, abbreviations, or emoticons
- if applying for an opening:
- address any qualifications the professor is looking for
- demonstrate your experience
- if asking for a research opportunity:
- state specifically your interest in that research group (you need to read the professor’s website)
- explain why research is important for your goals
- ask to schedule a meeting or say that you will be coming to office hours
Subject: Meeting to discuss undergraduate research opportunities in topic
Dear Dr. Professor,
I am a year student at university majoring in major(s). How you found out about the professor’s research. Expression of interest in specific paper or topic. I would appreciate the chance to talk with you about your research in topic of interest and about possible undergraduate opportunities in your lab.
My experience in research experience or class, confirmed my intention to develop my research skills and goal. I know you are very busy. We could schedule an appointment or I can drop by your office hours on day and time.
I have attached my resumé and unofficial transcript. Please let me know if there is any other information I can provide. I look forward to talking to you soon.
2. There are research programs out there that you can apply to. Most research programs for pre-medical students are held in the summer, however. Click on this link, and it should take you to a list of summer programs you can apply to for the future. Deadlines with summer programs are usually in February.
What do I get from being a part of a research study/program?
- be part of something that could possibly advance science as we know it
- learn different techniques in lab
- possible credit hours earned
- possible graduation honors
- possible publication, posters, and presentation opportunities
- resumé builder (although this shouldn’t be your main purpose)
- a valuable and challenging experience you can now talk about
I do clinical research outside my university under a vascular surgeon, and this past May-June, I got to co-present the study I started for Texas Vascular Association alongside the rest of the Amputation and Prosthetics Clinical Study team. If you want to read more about the research that I do and my experience in San Diego, regarding the Vascular Annual Convention, click this link!
Last minute things to keep in mind:
- A lot of these research assistant positions are not paid, so do not expect money out of this (a lot of summer research programs give you stipends, however)
- Typically, you are required to work 6 -9 hours per week
- If you are a research assistant for a professor on campus, talk to your advisor about getting credit for committing to research lab for a whole semester or two
- Before emailing, meeting, or joining a professor with their lab, read about their study first, and obtain a solid knowledge about it so that if they ask you what interests you in joining his/her lab, you can talk about specific parts of the lab or concept of the study that interests you. If you can talk about the topic, the professor will see that you just might be an asset to his/her study.
- Start emailing professors 2 weeks before school starts!
GOOD LUCK and may you discover scientific breakthroughs!
Patience is also a form of action.