How to Get Research Experience

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How to get research experience as a premed student.

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male student working in chemistry lab

Working in a research setting can help make you a competitive medical school applicant and help you to determine if a career in medicine or medical research is right for you.

How do I find a research position?

If you’re currently in college, check the science department bulletin boards or websites for opportunities to assist with faculty research projects. Express your interest to your science professors, academic advisor, and your pre-health advisor.

Your school’s career center may know about research job openings, and they can also offer resume help and go over interview tips and techniques. Opportunities may be on or off campus, full- or part-time, paid or unpaid, or part of a premed summer program.

If you haven’t started college or if you’ve already graduated, focus on networking. Don’t be afraid to ask people if they know of any open positions. Research hospitals and universities in your area might be looking for lab technicians. Job opportunities are typically posted on the career pages of their websites.

When is the best time to look for a position?

According to Rivka Glaser, Ph.D., director of the honors program and assistant professor of biology at Stevenson University, if you’re interested in a job for the following semester, the best time to look for positions is during the middle of the semester, or a week or two before midterms. There also tend to be a lot of research opportunities in the summer, both paid and volunteer. Remember, typically there are more applicants than available spots so get your applications in early.

What’s the best way to apply?

Dr. Glaser suggests sending an email or dropping by the professor’s office. Talk about the research or project you’re interested in. Demonstrate your knowledge about the project, and also about any relevant techniques you learned in previous courses and labs. Even if you’ve never formally worked in a lab, chances are you’ve taken a course with a lab component. That counts as experience. To prepare, go back through your notes and familiarize yourself with some of the experiments you’ve conducted. Be able to communicate your hypothesis, techniques, and findings.

Dr. Glaser stresses that professionalism is key. If you’re going to approach one of your previous instructors for a job or a recommendation, make sure you made a good impression during the class. For instance, you’re not likely to get a positive recommendation if you fell asleep in class, missed several sessions or were often texting. Teachers notice. Also, watch how you address professors when emailing or speaking to them. Don’t speak in the same manner and tone that you use with your friends; be more formal. Use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation in any correspondence.

How should I prepare for an interview?

With any interview, it’s important to make a good impression. Be sure to dress appropriately. Come prepared with a resume.

Often during interviews, you’ll be asked about your career goals. It’s helpful to be able to speak about the steps you plan to take to meet those goals. Talk about classes you’ve taken, especially upper-level science courses. Speak about the skills and knowledge of techniques and equipment you’ve acquired through your coursework. Know what lab experiments you’ve done. If you’ve done any sort of research—even in your coursework—keep track of it. This shows you have experience.

Lastly, interviewers often ask candidates if they have any questions. Dr. Glaser suggests asking what they think you’ll learn and how this position might be able to improve your skill set. Check out these interview resources for more tips.

Is research experience required to be accepted to medical school? 

It’s not required—research is just one of many types of experiences that can help you prepare for medical school. It’s a good idea to look at your potential medical schools’ mission statements to see if research is a focus at their school. You can read each school’s mission, and the number of accepted students in their most recent class who had research experience, in the Medical School Admission Requirements. Remember that it’s best to pursue experiences that you’re genuinely interested in, not just to check a box, but you may not know if research is for you until you give it a try.    

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