How to Prepare Research for Medical School Admissions

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Preparing for your medical school admissions is daunting. There are the academic components and the nights wondering whether your transcript is good enough for this year’s cycle. Then there are things like the MCAT and standardized testing scores. Perhaps most nebulous of all are the NAQs. Or the non-academic components of admission. 

What are they even looking for? How much does volunteering or service or research factor into their decision? That piece is certainly vague and often changes depending on the school you are applying for and the admission cycle you are in.

Many candidates increase their chances by adding in research into their application. As someone who has published more than 40 peer reviewed papers, I have a few tips for optimizing your research career before medical school. 

  1. Ask yourself whether research is what you like to do?
  • First, we have to dispel a few myths. Many people think you HAVE to do research in order to get into medical school. I am here to tell you as someone who has reviewed applications that this is not true. Great candidates are admitted every year without a research background so if you are not interested at all in research then don’t worry about it. If you are though, read on!
  1. Find a good research principal investigator early on in your university career
  • Let’s face it, as a student, you don’t have too much time on your hands. You have to keep up your grades, volunteer, win awards and so much more. The important thing to keep in mind is to find a mentor who perhaps has an existing research lab and staff who can keep your experiments going for you when you have pesky midterm week or finals coming up. Knowing that there is additional capacity available to you is important. Communicate early with your PI on expectations and opportunities for presentations and publications.
  1. Learn as much as you can about the projects you take on
  • This is quite obvious, but my advice would be to learn as much as you can about your topic of research. Read around your own research topic, read the publications that your lab has put out or that your preceptor has written. Make sure you have a good handle on the content. This will allow you to control the pace of research progression especially at the point of manuscript writing. Making sure you are able to write the entirety of your manuscript if needed will make sure that your team is confident in your abilities and willing to comply by timelines. 
  1. Seek out opportunities for conferences and research presentations
  • In your own time, approximately every quarter, take a day to sit down and actively search for upcoming conferences. You can do this first through a quick google search and then by asking your PI, research fellows, and professors in relevant fields if they know about any opportunities. This way, you will ensure that you are always applying to present at a conference and that you do not miss any deadlines for abstract submissions. This will increase the odds that you will be accepted to present your work. Another perk of this approach is that by taking the initiative you will increase the chances that you can be a “lead” or first author on the presentation.
  1. Optimization tactics
  • As a bonus tip, ask your preceptor if there are any unfinished projects or manuscripts that you can help on. Often this can be a quick way for you to develop research acumen and also have a publication quicker than you otherwise would be able to have if you started a project from scratch. Ask if there are any opportunities for commentaries or case reports. These are much shorter publications and they do not require the same amount of academic and research rigor. If you are just starting out in research, this may be a good way to learn about the writing and publication process.

Looking for more resources on research opportunities? Check out these blogs below:
Finding Summer Research for Pre-Medical Students
The Research Problem for Medical Students