The Importance of Undergraduate Medical Research: Get a Leg Up on Your Medical School Competition

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It’s tempting to look at your undergraduate school years as a time to work hard and play harder, and for many majors, you’ll be able to do that. If your considering a medical career, your motto should probably be work hard and then work harder.  Setting yourself apart from other medical school applicants is key to your admission.  One way to do that is to undertake research during your undergraduate years.  You’ll learn more in a lab or hospital setting than your competitors, and your experiences will help you decide if med school is the right path for you.

Research work teaches you how to be persistent.  Though it was once uncommon for undergrads to be in the lab, it is now seen as a critical component of a comprehensive undergraduate experience.  Finding a lab to work in is similar to a job search, so you’ll obtain interview and presentation skills as you pursue a position.  When you experience several rejections, you’ll learn what it takes to pick yourself up and dust yourself off.  The process of obtaining an undergraduate research position is a learning experience in itself.

Students observing surgery at Nakornping Hospital in Chiang MaiResearch work also provides you with the content knowledge necessary to excel in your science studies.  Without a hands-on component, the concepts you learn in class remain elusive.  By working in a lab, you’ll be able to see these concepts in action.  In cooperation with a supervising researcher or professor, you’ll create hypotheses and test them.  You’ll gain practical experience as a researcher which will set your knowledge apart from those who stick to their textbooks.

Working in a lab allows you to network and build a professional rapport with the leading experts in your field.  You’ll be on the cutting edge of scientific discoveries as you work with leaders in innovation.  These connections will provide you with access to a broader network of scholars and academics.  By building this network, you will have access to great minds who can advocate for your medical school applications.  These highly coveted letters of recommendation will set your application apart from those who decided to spend their summers on the beach rather than behind a microscope.

Gap Medics students on placementUndergraduate research does little to impact your GPA directly.  You may do better in your science coursework as a result of what you have learned. However, research provides the opportunity for your to build your professional resume through research positions, awards, and publications.  Students who enter medical school with an established research track record, especially if this work has been published, have developed the critical thinking and writing skills needed to become a medical doctor.

So what are you waiting for?  As summer research opportunities begin to be publicized, seek one out for yourself.  Alternatively, don’t be afraid to cold-email the head researcher of a lab in which you would like to work on campus.  You never know what doors will open from your undergraduate research experiences. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.

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