Okay, I know its been FOREVER since I wrote a post dedicated to my premed followers. For some crazy reason my premed posts are my MOST POPULAR. Seriously guys, my premed pins on Pinterest have been shared thousands of times. One of my pins related to medical school reaches 26,000+ people each month. TWENTY SIX THOUSAND PEOPLE Y’ALL. I don’t even think I have 26 people I know really well let alone twenty six thousand. When I look at my blog analytics most of my traffic is coming from medical school related searches online & on Pinterest. So why oh why did I stop writing about medicine and medical school? Truthfully, I could come up with a bunch of excuses. But the real reason is because talking about medicine 24/7 is kind of boring for me. I’m sorry, but I had to take a breather for my own sake. Despite the hiatus, a bunch of you have been emailing me questions and I always make sure to get back to you guys as soon as I can. If you need to, you can always contact me via the contact tab above and I promise I’ll get back to you ASAP! Or you can find me on twitter (@trisha_therese) & instagram (@threethousandmiles) where I’m way more active! But enough apologizing for now, to make it up to you I’m giving you all a 3 PART SERIES on research opportunities during your premed years. The posts will be organized as follows:
Part 1: How to FIND Research Opportunities –> I will mention some really cool programs out there, how to search for your own opportunities, and tips for creating your own experience.
Part 2: How to FUND Research Opportunities –> Let’s be real, we all can’t afford to work for free. I’ll share with you tips and ways to find ways to getting paid for your lab work.
Part 3: The VALUE of Research and How to Turn it Into the Gift that Keeps on Giving –> What if you had 8 weeks on a project in another state or at another institution… Now what? This post goes into detail on how to make sure your experience wasn’t just a few weeks or a semester in a lab. Find out how to turn your research into the gift that keeps on giving.
So you wanna be a researcher….
Clearly we have lots to cover, so let’s get started shall we? Okay, so you decided you wanted to go to medical school so after a few google searches, and panic attacks from reading Student Doctor Network Forums, you are either feeling 1 of 2 ways: 1) “OMG, I haven’t even touched a science experiment outside of my coursework. How am I going to compete with the genius who just published his 100th article in Nature and has 5000 shadowing hours?” or 2) “Psh I have more publications than anyone here. I’ll definitely get in over them.” Whether you’re person 1 or person 2 or somewhere in between, let me tell you this: RESEARCH ALONE WILL NOT GET YOU INTO MEDICAL SCHOOL. Let me repeat that again for those of you who are freaking out about finding research opportunities… RESEARCH ALONE WILL NOT GET YOU INTO MEDICAL SCHOOL.
With that being said, it is pretty common (some may argue that it’s expected but I disagree) nowadays to get involved with research in undergrad before applying to medical school. Some students publish and some students don’t. Some students are so busy with other activities that never never step foot in a lab or get involved in a project. And truthfully that’s okay. Research is important but it’s not everything. It does add value to your resume though. So if you do have the time and the opportunities in front of you, then I would say jump on it.
What kind of research should I do?
There is research in EVERY FIELD imaginable. Seriously, don’t limit yourself to science. Maybe you decided to major in a non-science field. If you love the field so much then try doing a meaningful project in it. At the end of the day it’s not about what you do. It’s just important that you do something, you were an asset to the team, and that you gained something from the experience.
Chances are, if you’re early on in your premed journey, you may not know what kind of things you like so it may take a bit of guesswork at the beginning. When trying to find your interests think about what courses you enjoy and read up on recently published journals in the field. What interests you? When i was in high school I was accepted into a competitive high school research course. To figure out what projects we wanted to join in on our mentors had us readin EVERYTHING until we found things that interested us. Surprisingly I was preparing to do dermatology or ortho research (I love skin & I love bones). Unfortunately for me, research interferred with cheerleading so I quit the program (my parents were so mad at me by the way). Anyways what I’m trying to say is take advantage of your schools resources and journal subscriptions. Immerse yourself in whats going on in the research world and I’m sure you’ll find something you like.
In addition to thinking about your interests, think about how you want to spend your time. Do you want to be in front of a computer all day? Do you think you’d prefer something with human subjects? If animals make yous squeamish then maybe working with mice isn’t the best idea (I learned this real quick after doing research in Paris… more about that later).
Don’t just do research to have a check box filled on your med school apps. Make sure you’re doing things that you’re genuinely interested in and are passionate about. Trust me it comes across pretty clearly if you’re just one of those people who’s doing it all just to get a seat in medical school. Studying and being in school is hard enough. Don’t make your life harder by signing up for a time consuming experience if you’re not even passionate about the field.
Where to find premed research opportunities:
First of all I’d like to mention that this is NOT an all encompassing list. In fact there are so many more opportunities I probably did not find. When I was an undergrad at Harvard I spent one summer on campus and I made friends who were working at a robotics lab. I didn’t even know we had a robotics program let alone a fully paid, fully funded, research opportunity that included food and housing & field trips (let’s just say I was a bit salty when I realized I missed that train). But I’m saying that to say that there are opportunities all over. You just need to be PROACTIVE about finding them.
And don’t put off your search until later. A lot of applications for summer are due now (aka before you leave for winter break). It’s best to figure out what you need (resume, essays, letters of recommendation, etc) now than waiting until the last minute. A late or incomplete application is likely a rejection so be smart, be proactive, and be prepared. I know it’s annoying… you’re just coming back from the Thanksgiving holiday and you are stressing about all the work you didn’t do during your time off (I know I’m not the only one who chilled for 4 days and spent Sunday scrambling to figure out all the work I didn’t do). I don’t want to add any more stress but maybe instead of browsing twitter or youtube videos you can create what I like to call “productive study breaks” where you use your breaks to focus on something productive but enjoyable like searching for research opportunities.
Here’s my list of a few research programs + a few creative ideas to use when searching for opportunities:
1) Check out the AAMC –> They have a list of Summer Undergraduate Research Programs on their website. I’ve actually heard of a few of these. I know for a fact that I missed the deadlines (aka I procrastinated) for some of them as well. Don’t be like me. Go through this list and figure out which ones you want to apply to, get your application together and submit.
2) Check out other schools premed sites/ office of career pages –> It always baffled me that other students could access the Harvard OCS resource pages. Yes some pages are reserved for those with a university log in and password but a good chunk of info is located for free on the internet. It made me realize that this was a two-way street and I had access to other schools information as well. For instance RIT has a list of Paid Opprtunities/ Internships for pre-meds for 2017. How amazing is that? And guess what all it took was a quick google search. You’d be surprised how much free information you can get from other schools and websites. Usually a search of “school name” + any combination of premed/ internships/ research/ medical school may give you a few good results.
3) Look at job postings –> In undergrad we had a job portal to find jobs. Seniors would use it to find post-grad job opportunities. But current students could use it to find job opportunities on campus. Many times, your professors may list working in a research lab as a part time job. If your school has a physical job board with flyers then check that out too. In undergrad we had a wall in the science center that was filled with posters. One day I was waiting for a friend by that wall and then I realized how many opportunities were listed on there. There were research opportunities, travel opportunities, jobs, panels, speaker series, etc.
4) Look at other graduate schools –> I’m really appreciative that I went to a university that had a variety of different schools. Between the business school, the innovation center, the school of government, the medical school, the school of public health, the divinity school, and the law school, there were ample research opportunities to go around. I had classmates who trekked to the different campuses to work with PIs in a variety of fields. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to do bench work. I thought I loved benchwork until I tried it, and I hated it. I quickly switched to doing global health work and psychology research because that’s what interested me the most. I had friends doing economics research, government research at HKS, or business related research at HBS. It’s really up to you.
5) Speak to your department –> Even if you don’t go to a research heavy school, most colleges and universities have departments that have at least one person involved in research. Email your department chair/ department advisor (or whoever in your department has contact with students/ advises them) and ask to set up a meeting regarding research opportunities. Don’t only ask them what opportunities are available (no one likes a student who is only looking for handouts). But be sure to ask them what professors have worked with students in the past or if they know of any professors who they think wouldn’t mind having a student joining the team so that you can contact them after the meeting. This shows that you’re serious, you’re proactive and you make things happen. In medical school, I found most of my experiences through word of mouth. An advisor or mentor would mention someone who they thought was working on things I liked and I was the one who reached out to them and set up everything. You really have nothing to lose.
True story, but Paul Farmer was one of my professors in undergrad. I loved his course and one day I asked him if he knew of any opportunities for me to work in Haiti. I figured that as one of the Partners In Health Founders who just finished building a state of the art hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti that he’d be the perfect connect. You know what he told me? He said, “What have you looked into so far? Why don’t you look up some opportunities?” I was slightly embarrassed but took his words to heart. Within a week I ended up finding NGOs in Boston I wanted to work with and one of them was looking for an intern. Ultimately I got the position, ended up going to Haiti and guess who I bumped into while I was there? Dr. Farmer himself! Turns out he was on the board of the organization and one of the NGO co-founders also worked with Partners in Health. He ended up speaking to students for a program we were organizing and had lunch with us. See how that came full circle. I know that working with an NGO isn’t a research experience but the same thing applies. BE PROACTIVE. TAKE INITIATIVE. Don’t expect opportunities to come to you. It’s okay to ask around but be prepared to show that you’ve been actively looking for things as well.
6) Look up postings at hospitals –> In Boston there were SO MANY teaching/ research hospitals. Between Harvard Medical School, Tufts Medical School, and Boston University School of Medicine I really had a bunch of hospitals to choose from. Additionally, a lot of these hospitals are affiliated with research powerhouses and universities, which means more opportunities for students. I know that not everyone is in undergrad in a major city or an area that has a medical school or research center close by but it doesn’t mean that the opportunities aren’t there. Check postings to see whats available. I had an internship at Boston Children’s Hospital and it was amazing. I worked on research with autistic children and their siblings and I also shadowed int he neurodevelopmental clinic. It was the first time that I saw a specialty in medicine that I really really liked and could picture myself doing. I saw this internship listing on my psych department website however it was also posted on the Hospital website as well.
7) Ask your professors –> One summer I was staying on campus to do other things and realized I’d have time for a part-time side hustle. I was taking a course that I LOVED on mental disorders and my professor constantly mentioned his research during his lectures. One day I walked up to him after class and asked him if he’d be available to talk about research and he agreed so I let him know I’d shoot him a follow up email. I followed up that day, and two months later and I had an awesome job working on a fMRI study. I think it helped that I was doing well in his class and I genuinely was interested in the material. if there’s a professor you connect with or if you like their work then reach out to them. They’re a professor so that already means that they likely enjoy teaching students and having them around. I’m sure they would be excited to hear that someone takes a genuine interest in their work and the things they’re teaching you each day.
8) Sign up for a research elective/ course –> Does your school offer research electives or courses? This is a way to kill two birds with one stone. You can fulfill a school requirement and get some research experience. I took a Psychology research course and my partner and I did a small project that was really designed to teach us the fundamentals of using STATA and other statistical software (not a project worthy for listing as “research” on my applications). However, other students did more intense research courses where they actually collected meaningful data and some even went to try to publish their work. Look into your course catalog or speak with your advisor to see if this is something your school offers. Just make sure you’re clear on your AMCAS/ applications when decribing the experience. For example you can say something like “Through XYZ independent study course, I was able to do NAME of project where I…” (Btw please don’t copy that exact sentence, get creative and make it your own!)
9) When all else fails, create your own opportunities –> Honestly this could be it’s own post. In a previous blog post I talked about how to win at life and create your own opportunities for yourself (READ: How to Win at Life). I touched the surface on jumping at opportunities and not waiting for things to be presented to you. If you’d like I can make a more in depth post about this and how it specifically applies to research, just let me know! But what I can say is DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF AN EMAIL. I sent an email and my resume to a network of neuroscience labs in Paris and within 2 weeks I had offers pouring in from labs all across France. I had to clarify with people that they knew I was in undergrad and had NO skills but they didn’t care. It was awesome and I ultimately landed my dream research position at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Is there someone who’s work you admire from afar? Shoot them an email! Is there a project going on with an organization that you have been following? Shoot them an email.
Realize though that not all emails lead to opportunities but they do lead to connections. I knew a girl who was obbsessed with an architect and design company that deisgned hospitals in poor countries. She contacted them and they invited her to visit (she was close by). She ended up meeting them and getting a tour but was disappointed when they didn’t offer to hire her on the spot. Fast forward a few months later and her and I were working in Haiti. Guess who designed the hospital that we worked at… yes, it was that same design company. So through her I learned about the company. When i planned a global health conference at school we ended up inviting one of the designers/ architects from that comapny and her and I were able to connect because of my friends experience and what i learned in Haiti at the hospital her group designed. IT ALL COMES FULL CIRCLE. Opportunities are great, but don’t sleep on connections. (I guess this is what some people call networking… I prefer the word connecting because I like to make sure my relationships are genuine but I guess it’s the same thing).
Okay I think that just about covers everything. Stay tuned for Parts 2 & 3, where I’ll talk about funding & also how to maximize your research experience. If you have any questions, need someone to look over your resume, proof read a cover letter, or whatever then definitely don’t hesitate to shoot me an email (use the contact tab above). My only request is that you do not wait until the last minute and you give me at least 10 days weeks before your deadline. If you give me your documents with less than 10 days to your deadline, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to give you edits in time.