I haven’t talked about research in the medical school series yet, so I thought I better get to it because it’s super important! If you haven’t seen the other med school series posts, you can see them here. This post is going to be all about how to do research in medical school. So here we go!
Research is an important part of any pre-med or medical student’s life. Even if you don’t intend to do research in the future, it is a great experience and will teach you a ton. It also shows that you can think in a research setting, perform lab techniques that may be valuable to a medical school, and follow a project from beginning to completion.
I would recommend getting involved with research in undergrad, just to get your toes wet. It definitely doesn’t have to be medical research; anything that is a project with a set question will work!
When I was in undergrad I did research on frogs and how different pesticides may change their mating behavior.
In that lab, I learned how to do PCR, lots of pipetting, set a gel, run a gel, manage my own reagents without contaminating them (although I did have a terrible contamination at one point).
I also learned how to interpret data, which I think was extremely important!
Now, let me tell you that I am not a “researchy” type of person. I am not drawn to the lab. I often find myself thinking I’m not smart enough to do research, that I couldn’t come up with valid studies on my own, and that I could never get a PhD.
But I am here to tell you that no matter how non-researchy you think you are, you can still do research. I promise.
So How Do I Do It?
- If you’re in undergrad, contact your science department head and tell them you’re interested in conducting a research project. They can set you up with whatever professor is working on something and needs students. Or, ask your favorite professor what they think and they might either take you into their lab, or recommend someone else.
Contact your local medical school
Before I was in medical school, I briefly worked in a lab on the IU School of Medicine Campus. It was basically just to learn a few more lab techniques and to meet people. I called the admissions office and asked for suggestions of good people to contact. They knew what labs were accepting undergrads and told me where to go!
Get started early
By the time you are a third year medical student it’s almost too late to get into research. I would recommend starting to do some lab work the summer between first and second year. You have so much on your plate first year, you probably don’t want to add in research. But that summer is a great time to do it!
See what summer options your medical school has
My medical school had a Summer Research Program in Academic Medicine or SRPinAM. We were paid to work 8-10 weeks of the summer. At the end of the summer, we presented our projects as posters and also did 10 minute power point presentations.
Ask professors you like if they are doing research
I met my now mentor through another professor. I asked her about research and she directed me to the lab I’ve worked in since my first year. Because I got involved with this lab so early, my mentor knows me extremely well. His letter of recommendation for me will be great because he has seen me grow over these 3 years of medical school.
Do a research elective third year
Enough said. If you have time for it in your schedule, do it. I did an ophthalmology research elective in the fall and this past spring got to present my work at a conference in Seattle.
How Do I Succeed In It?
There are so many opportunities in research! Opportunities to present your work as posters, publish papers, give presentations, go to conferences- it’s awesome! I have been SO lucky in that my research has done really well:
My summer project in between first and second year won first place at our presentations and I got $13,000! (don’t worry- it all went to student loans)
My third year elective project allowed me to present in Seattle. It is now going to be submitted for publishing.
My third year project allowed me to present at the IU Simon Cancer Center Research Day and I won 2nd place.
I promise, that none of my success has had anything to do with being smart or research inclined. Because I am neither of those. I just work hard.
To be successful in research here is my advice:
- Become really invested in your project.
- Read all the articles related to your project so you have a full understanding of what you’re doing.
- Get excited about it.
- Ask questions.
When you become invested in your project and feel like it’s your own, it’s easy for others to see how dedicated and excited you are. The more you read, the more you will understand the background of your project and why you’re doing it. Then you will think it’s even more cool and want to talk about it more. By being able to accurately describe your project, answer questions about it, and seem excited about it, you will do well.
I thought my projects were the jam. My first project is such an incredible concept and it was an honor to work on it with my mentor. My second project will, I think, open the doors to new therapeutic testing for retinoblastoma, a childhood cancer. SO COOL RIGHT?!?!?!
Okay so there you have it, my research advice.
***One last thing, as far as basic science research vs. clinical research, I would lean toward basic science. Being at the bench in a lab is a great experience. Going through charts for a clinical project might be cool too, but you miss out on all the learning in the lab!
I’m sure there are approximately 84394583985398 people who know more about research than I do so don’t take everything I say to heart if you disagree. If you’re interested in an MD PhD program, I’m not a good one to talk to about that. But I can help you find someone who is!
Have you done research?
Love it/hate it?