Do You Need Research Exposure As A Pre-med?

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March 16, 2020

Whys and Hows of Research

Gaining research experience or participating in research-intensive projects has become a very common extracurricular activity.

Now, numerous undergrad colleges provide basic research exposure to their students in forms of regular seminars, research projects, or conferences based on upcoming scientific issues and emergencies. Usually, pre-med students tend to keep research oriented activities to a minimum, assuming that they are boring and laborious. While it is certainly true that they can be intense, if a pre-med student goes into it with the right mindset, research extra-curricular activities can prove to be the highlight of their application and pre-med journey.

Are research-based experiences mandatory?

The answer to this question depends on what is it you wish to pursue after getting admission in a medical school. Ideally, no matter what you want to pursue, research experiences will complement and enhance your pre-med studies. Research experience is important not just for your medical school studies, but can also play a huge role in giving you an edge over other applicants during the medical school application process.

Research experience is not usually mandatory unless you are applying for an MD-PhD program.

Then why do most pre-med students get involved in research? The answer is very simple. Read on.

Why should you be involved in research and how deep should your research exposure be?

A fairly good research experience enhances some crucial skills and competencies that make for a good physician, which are some of the core competencies that a deserving medical school applicant should be able to demonstrate.

These include but are not limited to problem solving abilities, critical thinking skills, ability to think independently, ability to formulate and test hypothesis. It is also important to note that the whole discipline of medicine owns its existence to people who bravely conducted researches in various fields to find innovative medical solutions. Think of people like Marie Curie and penicillin and you will realize how the entire medical science is based on the results of successful research. Therefore, it is no surprise that it will form an important part of your medical education.

In spite of the remarkable progress of medical science, there are still countless diseases plaguing humanity which have no current cure. Research plays a fundamental role in finding answers and also improving existing treatments. If a pre-med student can demonstrate to the admission committee that he has potential to make some substantial contribution to the medical profession, then it can considerably increase his chances of getting admitted.

What are research experiences?

By research exposure, it is certainly not meant that you limit your research experience only to basic science and wet lab. For example, you can participate in research on public health issues, and they can even extend to foreign territories, say, for ebola or corona-virus. Once you start participating in research activities, you will realize that there are various roles which you can partake in. You can participate in conducting surveys relating to public health issues. You can even help doctors by organizing their clinical trials or collecting patient samples. There is no limit to the role you can play in any research program.

Pre-med students can also participate in research projects with the physicians they are shadowing. This is also a great way to connect with your mentor and show him/her your dedication and passion towards the medical profession.

Your research experience can also culminate into a research manuscript, which you may be an author or co-author of, depending on the extent of your research activity. This is a wonderful way of showing your commitment, passion and interest towards medicine. Some pre-med students also use take advantage of their gap year to pursue research experiences. The beauty of research is that it spans many topics and subjects and it can be as creative as one wants.

Using your research experience in a fruitful manner:

As we have stressed before, any clinical experience you get as a pre-med or any volunteering work you do, will only prove to be fruitful if you are able to communicate it in the right manner to the application screeners.

Here’s how you can convert your research experience into a succesfull application:

  • Letter of Recommendation: Build a positive and a strong relationship with your research mentor. While you should not go in with the sole motive of receiving a recommendation letter, it never hurts to be capitalize on the opportunity to network and build meaningful relationships. If you have participated seriously in your research project, then it is quite possible that you spent a lot of time with your mentor. This makes him or her the ideal person to provide an authentic and strong letter of recommendation. Make sure that you ask politely, and your mentor will likely provide a detail letter of recommendation highlighting your role in research and how you demonstrated commitment and resilience.
  • Personal Statement Essays: Incorporating various anecdotes in your personal statement that demonstrate your medical potential and competencies is very important. Your personal statement is the opportunity to show your commitment and passion for medicine. You have to use this opportunity very carefully and spend at least a month on your essay in order to perfect it. A research experience can significantly demonstrate to the admission committee your problem solving abilities, integrity, and oral communication skills. All this depends on how well you are able to articulate it in your essay.
  • Secondary Application stage: As mentioned before, it is not mandatory to pursue research activities. But, they can be listed in your activities section in your primary application and they can also be of immense help in answering short essay questions in the secondary applications.
  • Interview Stage: The interview stage is one of the most important aspects of the whole med-school admission process. If you have listed your research experiences in previous stages, then be ready to answer all sorts of questions relating to them. It is best that you practice possible questions beforehand, and make sure you review your projects, hypothesis, and finals results. It is highly advisable that you practice the question and answers before hand with your medical school mentor.

Lastly, in order to integrate and properly process your experiences during research, we highly advise that you maintain a pre-med journal of your research internship. It is the best way to find coherence and reflect meaningfully on your research experiences.

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