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4 Methods To Get Into A Research Lab

A woman stands in a lab with her back to the camera. The counter in front of her is covered in lab equipment.

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

A key component of a successful medical school application is being involved in academic research. Although the thought of researching can seem daunting at first, through the right approaches, being involved in research can be as easy as enrolling in a class.

Before we get started, let’s define what research is and how it is conducted. Basically, research is how scientists learn about the world around them and they accomplish this through posing a question and then finding ways to adequately test such an assumption in order to prove or disprove it.

Research can be conducted in all aspects of academia, with psychology, climate, environmental, and sociological all being examples of fields of research.

This is where you, the undergraduate/or graduate student, come in. More often than not, the people posing these elaborate and ground breaking research questions have funds at their disposal to test such assumptions.

Although you may have pressing questions of your own that you may want to pursue, unfortunately, you do not have the resources to go out and create your own study and must therefore be an assistant in someone else’s lab.

However, if you are unable to research what truly inspires you, the second best thing is working for someone else who is researching something similar.

Now that we have explained what research is and how it pertains to you, we can now discuss the importance of conducting research as an undergraduate with hopes of being accepted into medical school.

The reason why medical schools want to see that you have some research experience is because they want to see that applicants truly possess a curious nature and would apply such curiosity into advancing medical care.

As a doctor you are not only a healer but also a scientist working to discover the best possible treatment plan for your patients. Conducting little to no research is a red flag to admission committees because they want to see that you are capable of conducting the scientific process in the world around you. 

So if research is so important, how does one get involved in it? Well, asking this question is the first step. There are a couple of different approaches that can be taken to land yourself in a research lab.

The first would be to go to your school’s faculty directory and find the professors at your school that are currently conducting research. Most professors are required to conduct some sort of research in order to remain tenured, but in our case we will only be looking at professors of the sciences and psychology.

The reason why we are focusing on these areas of study is because these are the areas of research which are most intertwined with the medical setting. Once these professors have been located you are going to want to send an email to every single one of those professors that highlights your accomplishments, experiences, and why you want to work in this particular lab.

This approach is called the cold email approach since it is essentially a numbers game and due to the nature of the emails, there will be many professors that simply do not respond. The advantage of this method is that you have access to a large pool of potential labs, but the disadvantage is that you are sending an email as a random student, so it is justifiable that they do not respond. I have personally found success using this method but only after a consistent effort of emailing. 

Undergrad Expectations As A Pre-Med Student

Another approach to landing a spot in a research lab is reaching out to former professors and teaching assistants. Just like professors, teaching assistants are also required to conduct research in a lab, but in this case you have attended the professor’s lectures and the teaching assistant’s discussions, so they are more familiar with you as a student compared to you simply sending cold emails.

This approach is also beneficial if you have made a positive presence in the classroom, especially if the professor and or teaching assistant can remember you by name.

Let this be a reminder that everyone you meet in the academic setting can be a resource to you, so do not feel shy and get to know your professors and teaching assistants!

The people you will meet in college will make or break your college experience in regards to opportunities and experiences. With this in mind, another easy approach to landing a position in a research lab is asking acquaintances and friends that you already know if their lab is looking for any new members in the near future.

You would be surprised at the opportunities that await for you and all you have to do is ask. The best thing you can do in terms of landing a new position, and in this case a research lab, is putting yourself out there and not being afraid of hearing “no.”

One last approach could be attending a research fair held by your university that hosts labs from all disciplines that are in need of research assistants. In this case, it may be difficult to find a lab with a focus that you truly enjoy, but these labs are in need of research assistants, so the probability that you land a position is high. This is a great option to find a position in a research lab in a quick manner, but the options are limited.

I hope you all try these strategies and find the research lab position that is best for you and aids your journey to medical school. If one of these tactics does not work, do not be afraid to try a different method.

I wish you all the best on your path to medical school and I have complete faith that you will succeed. Just remember that everything is a learning experience and as long as you leave every position with more knowledge than you came in, you will succeed!

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