Finding Summer Research for Pre-Medical Students

It’s always hard to find summer research. It’s hard for you; it’s hard for everyone. In this blog, I’ll talk about the when’s and how’s of landing your (first) summer research.

When should I start doing summer research?

Sorry, but there’s no definitive answer to this one. My opinion is as early as possible; in my case, summer after first year of undergrad. The reasons are three-fold. First, if you don’t find anything for your first summer, you know it’s still early in your career, and you have buffer. Second, if you do land a position, you have more summers to explore different fields in subsequent summers. Third, you’ll have more time in research, and higher chances of publishing.

How do I look for summer research?

If you have personal connections, use them. Maybe you had a professor who mentioned his research in passing in class. Maybe you have a friend who’s currently working in a lab.

If you don’t, that’s fine too. I started out without knowing anyone, or anything as a matter of fact. In this case, I found that the best way to get involved is through structured programs. For example, at U of T, a few departments organize summer undergraduate research programs. These programs often provide a list of supervisors, and also some funding for your summer work. It does take quite a bit of work. You’ll have to do your own research to dig up all of these programs in different universities or sometimes hospitals. You’ll spend some time polishing up your application and emailing a list of supervisors you might want to work with. 

Alternatively, you can try cold-calling, or rather, cold-emailing. That is, look up researchers/professors who work in your field of interest, and email them to ask for research opportunities.

The logistics + Tips/tricks

No matter what route you choose, heed the following advice:

  1. Start early (pre-Christmas/Christmas). Supervisors can take a week or two before getting back to you. A few back and forth could easily cost you a month or two.
  2. Apply broadly. Sure, maybe your first choice is cardiovascular research, but anything is better than nothing, at least in my opinion.
  3. In your email, write one or two short paragraphs about who you are, what you’ve done (your skills), and why you are interested. Don’t make it an essay. No one has the time to read an essay. Attach your CV and transcript just in case.
  4. Best time to send an email is Tuesday. If Monday is a stat holiday, then send the email on Wednesday. The rationale is that first day back from the weekend/long weekend is busy, and you certainly don’t want your email getting buried.
  5. Don’t email close to or past 5 pm. No one (or very few people) wants to read emails past work hour. Similarly, try not to email on a Friday, certainly not Friday afternoons. 
  6. If no answer, follow up in 2 weeks. You can send a new email, again with your CV/transcript, or forward the first email you sent.

Last but not least, do not despair. Most people will get lots of rejections before they get the first “yes.” A lot of the times you won’t hear back at all. Just keep trying. You’ll get it one day.

Searching for more undergrad or high school resources?
How to Utilize Your Time During your Undergraduate Degree in Preparation for Medical School
Planning Ahead for Highschool Students: Is Medicine Right for You?