Why Medical Schools Value Research Experience
Research experience isn’t a requirement for med school admission. You won’t find a section about it on your application, but it is still valued and important. So important, in fact, that at some of the most competitive research-oriented med schools, 80-90% of admitted applicants have at least some research experience.
If research for medical school admissions isn’t required, why is such an emphasis placed on it? Why is it valued?
Here are 4 reasons why medical schools value research experience:
1. The science you learn in the classroom all comes from research.
Having research experience can deepen your understanding of what you learn in school. Knowing more about how hypotheses are formulated and how to investigate them can improve your med school experience and aid the development of skills that will help you in your medical career.
2. Research helps develop critical reasoning skills.
Research puts you in an environment that encourages you to understand the links between ideas, identify reasoning that is inconsistent or in error, and be consistent and systematic in how you approach problems. These are all skills that you will need in medical school and beyond. Participation in research shows that you are curious and able to think for yourself.
3. As a physician, you will need to continue learning throughout your career.
Research experience will help you read and evaluate journal articles to judge their findings and assess their legitimacy for treating your patients. Having familiarity with conducting scientific research will help you gauge how credible a given study is. Physicians need to be able to “think like a scientist.”
4. It will prepare you if you want to attend an MD/PhD program.
You need to have considerable research experience to be admitted to an MD/PhD program. Your ability to do research is a major factor in acceptance to these programs. Your letters of recommendation must emphasize your ability to conduct research and to impact the academic area you wish to study.
Once you’ve done your research you need to be able to share what you’ve learned with the admissions committee – both in your application and interview. Here are some pointers to make you shine as you discuss your research experience:
• Know every detail of your research. You will be the expert, so know all of the answers. Review your research before your interview to be sure you can handle any questions asked.
• Clarify the part you played in collaborative research. Be sure to specify what you did in the research project. Be prepared to discuss the importance of your role while giving credit to your team members.
• Change your emphasis depending on your interviewer. You should emphasize the parts of your research that are relevant to the person interviewing you.
8 Steps to Finding the Right Research Experience
Now that you know why research experience is an important part of your med school application, and how to share your knowledge with your adcom, let’s discuss how to find the ideal research opportunities for medical school admissions.
1. Get an early start.
It would be wonderful to have had 1-2 years of research experience before you submit your medical school application. The sooner you can find likely prospects, the better.
2. Identify your passions.
Are you more interested in Chemistry or Physics? Does Psychology really get you excited? Once you know where your real interests lie, check out the possibility of helping a professor in one of those areas. Adcoms can differentiate between someone who did research just to be able to say that they did it, and someone who was truly engaged in the experience. According to Faith Rushford, pre-health advisor at the University of Vermont Career Center, your experience should include “…contributing meaningful data, helping to improve or develop a new protocol, co-authoring parts of, or entire, manuscripts, and in some cases, presenting at conferences. This kind of substantive engagement, along with a strong letter from a principal investigator, can truly have an impact on an applicant’s profile.”
3. Get in touch with professors to see if they are looking for research assistants or lab volunteers.
Check to see if your school has a research office or centralized record of undergrad research opportunities. If not, you’ll need to explore what professors are currently working on (through department websites, etc.). Once you’ve identified possible positions and contacts, email them and inquire about speaking to them about your possibility of volunteering in their lab. Be sure to tell them about any background you have in their field – emphasizing prior research experience. Don’t lose hope if they don’t have any current openings. They may allow you to shadow them in their daily tasks, or you may need to find someone else to talk to. Your opportunity for research is out there!
4. Look at job lists.
Look for opportunities outside of your school. Hospitals, labs, pharmaceutical companies – even other universities – may be looking for research assistants.
5. Consider doing a thesis.
Different schools, and fields of study, may allow you to design you own research.
6. Investigate research programs exclusively for college grads.
If you’ve already graduated and realize that your research experience is lacking, look for programs designed just for you. The NIH and National Cancer Institute offer these types of programs, as do big research institutions.
7. Think about doing research during the summer.
You can spend 6-12 weeks working closely with faculty and doing research at a top US med school. You’ll have the chance to complete a research project and present it at the end of the summer.
8. Use the contacts you already have.
Network with professors, current students, and alumni. Do you have family, friends, or people you work with who may have contacts that can lead to an opening for research for medical school admissions? Do you know anyone that works in a lab or a college? Call your contacts and see if there are any research internship or job openings, have an informal interview to find out more about their work, or get names of further contacts.
It may take some legwork on your part, but finding the ideal research position will be well worth the effort.
Do you need help evaluating your candidacy and presenting a strong case for admission? Our expert medical school admissions consultants can guide you through every aspect of the application process. View our catalog of Medical School Consulting Services for more information on how we can help you get ACCEPTED!