Ah yes the eternal question for pre-meds “do I need to do research?”
Technically, no you do not need to do research. Most schools do not require research experience, though if you look at stats, most people who get accepted to medical schools have done it. It’s always looked upon favorably.
So what about research? Well, I’ve been doing research for 2+ years so I have a few helpful things to share. Remember, all experiences should be your own. Just take all advice with a grain of salt.
- Figure out what kind of research you are interested in. Medical? Military? Education? This is a good place to help you start in your search.
- Look at the options offered by your university or in the area.
- A good reason to be on good terms with your professor is that you can ask if they are doing any research and if you can be involved.
- Ask friends who are already involved in research if they know of any openings. I got two of my friends research positions.
- Know your strengths. Are you good at writing? Do you work better with your hands?
- What do you need for specific labs? Most places have certain requirements, like having taken an organic chemistry lab or proficiency in using statistical analysis software.
- Some research is paid. Some are considered “volunteer”. Don’t discredit an opportunity because it isn’t paid.
- Research comes in cycles and is based on projects. They can last anywhere between 4 months to years. Figure out how much time you will be able to dedicate.
- Many medical schools love to see research. It DOES NOT have to be medically related. What they want to see if your involvement and dedication to see it through.
- Don’t get into research just as an application booster! Do it because research is meant to help people or help discover new things!
In the lab
- Make sure to always dress appropriately for the lab you’re in. In a chem lab? Always wear your protective gear. Work in an office? Dress like a professional.
- Always be aware of what’s going on during your projects. You never know who might swoop in and fire questions at you.
- Get to know your peers. Are they undergrads, grad students? Med student, doctors, PhDs? This is how you can gauge how your demeanor in the lab should be.
- Be aware of who else works around you. A lot places have more than one project going on at any one time.
- Doing research is generally more of commitment that just doing volunteering, even if you aren’t paid. Most of the time, you will have to sacrifice between 8 and 12 hours of your time a week. Maybe more, maybe less, it depends on the lab and the project.
People you might meet
- There will be people you love in your lab. They will make your experience great and help you bond with what you are learning about.
- Other people will drive you up the wall and make you want to tear your hair out of your head. “How did these people make it through college?!” You’ll wonder. But this is just practice for the real world.
- Undergrads: probably the most like yourself (and in the same position). Most likely, they will have similar classes and interests. Mostly harmless.
- Grad students: In some labs, you’ll be working directly under them. They are pretty stressed out since the project is likely part of their thesis. Try not to mess up and stay away when they are freaking out about something. “You won’t understand until grad school.” If you say so.
- Full time employees: they get paid to do what you do for free. Most of them have indeed dedicated their life to working there though. Many of these people probably won’t work directly with you. Maybe just in the building.
- PhDs: probably your bosses. You will either be on full interacting terms with them, consulting them for even the most meager of trifles or you will surprise that they even knew your name even though you’ve been there three months.
- PhD candidates: these people actually know hell. Similar to grad students and have good advice.
- Military officials: they think you’re funny because you’re really nervous that you’re going to insult the United States military and get fired. Most of them are pretty nice though, if not slightly confused by the research they are funding (if your military funded).
- Actual scientists: You aren’t sure what their qualifications are, but they are really serious about this research. Like really serious. Somehow, it makes you afraid to touch anything.
- Physicians: Research doctors to be more specific. If you were brought onto the project, they probably already like you. Don’t mess it up.
- Med students: if you work with med students, they do most of the clinic type stuff. You’re just happy to help though.
Things you might do
- More likely than not, you will be doing multiple things while in your research position. Make sure can multitask effectively.
- You might be working with chemicals or microbes that would be, well, dangerous. It’s exciting but don’t rush anything in this setting unless you want acid burns (learned that from personal experience).
- Someone might ask you if you can make meth, not matter what kind of lab you work in.
- You might actually make something pretty close to meth.
- The products you get in research actually mean something, so take your time to get it right.
- Many labs have equipment you won’t see anywhere else. Not only will you have the privilege to see these objects inaction but you will probably know how to use them as well.
- Certain labs require you to know how to work with the data yourself. Pay attention in those basic classes, now is when they come in handy.
- You (probably) will have to complete an IRB and CITI training.
- If you work on literature reviews, you will figure out how to crank them out like nobody’s business. This helps if you chose to do research later.
- You will learn how to cite correctly. And quickly.
- Depending on what kind of person/company/school you work for, you will have the chance to expose yourself to many different people. Many who can offer great connections or opportunities in the future.
- You will meet important people regardless though. Always have your game face ready.
- Interactions with participants will always be interesting. Some will be perfect. Other you will wonder how they get a car started (ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS CLICK A RED BARREL, IT’S NOT THAT HARD).
- Color blindness tests are pretty standard when running participants. At some point, you may run into someone you have to tell to see an optometrist because they might be red-green color blind.
- You will come to understand why research, especially the one you are participating in, is so important.
- Maybe you will get to work on personal research. Some colleges have students do an undergrad thesis and where do you think you can do that in the sciences? A lab of course.
You give what you get
- You will find out if you like doing research.
- Researchers move onto new projects constantly. If you do well, you may be invited on to continue doing research under someone.
- Many research positions start off as unpaid. Many turn paid if you stay on for good work.
- Depending on your quality of work and what you do, the people you do research under are excellent letter writers.
- You will become somewhat of an expert in whatever you are doing research on.
- You will have the experience. Researchers in the future are more likely to take on someone who already has worked in the environment.
- The more instrumental you are in your lab, the more likely you are to be published.
- Know that almost all research is done to benefit someone, somewhere. Be proud of that.