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Getting Into Research: Part I

Research is a buzzword in every pre-med’s vocabulary. It’s an important step in learning about the fast-growing field of medicine and a way to get exposure to cutting edge discoveries. Medical schools like to see some research background in applicants, so most premeds apply for a limited number of spots. On top of the competition, researchers are wary of hiring undergrads for a number of reasons:

  • Lack of experience in the lab
  • Short-term commitments and low hourly work
  • Potential lack of interest in the research
  • Plentiful graduate and post-doc researchers to hire instead

These conditions make it difficult to get your foot in the door with researchers. Despite this, there are a number of things you have working in your favor:

  • Low level of commitment
  • Undergrads are cheap (often free)
  • Potential mentorship opportunity (scientists usually LOVE to mentor and teach; that’s why they got into the profession in the first place)

Play your cards right and set yourself up in the best light. You’ll do this by emphasizing your benefits and easing researchers’ concerns. So, how do we approach this process?

1. Identify interesting researchers.

Direct Approach

Not all research is created equal, but something is better than nothing. It’s more important (to a degree) that you do research that you find interesting than doing research with someone prestigious. Start by thinking about what kind of coursework you enjoy and what you don’t. Use that to narrow down the departments and types of researchers to put on your list. You should make a list that includes the following:

  • Name
  • Department
  • Email & Phone
  • Website
  • Size of the lab & number of undergrads vs. grad students (if data is available)
  • Description of the research

These columns will help you spend less time bouncing around websites looking for info you’ve already read. It will also help you learn more about the researcher, and frankly, researchers love nothing more than students who’ve done their homework and show interest in their work.

If you want, you can even rank the labs or simply group them in terms of interest. You will need a blanket approach and reach out to a lot of labs, because you won’t hear back from many of them.

(Summer) Undergraduate Research Programs

There are many school-sponsored research groups that help get undergrads into research. Find out if your school has any of these kinds of programs (often they are for summer research) and learn more about what they are looking for. A relatively comprehensive list can be found here on the AAMC website.

Co-op and other paid research jobs

These are often more competitive and favor more experienced students, but it’s great to get in touch with these organizations if they exist on your campus. They often have many resources to help you land a great position, and they also have listings of researchers who are hiring.

Check out Part II for how to build your case.

Permanent link to this article: http://portal.mcatquestion.com/getting-into-research-part-1/

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