Each year, the number of medical school applicants who have significant medical or laboratory research experience grows. In fact, many medical schools expect students to have some experience with research and over 70% of medical school matriculants have participated in research. You can find the AAMC's research FAQ here.
Do I have to do research?
While research experience is not a pre-requisite for most medical schools, working in a lab setting will help make you a more competitive applicant and will also help you to determine if a career in medicine or medical research is right for you. In addition, research is a hands-on learning experience which can develop a number of skills that are vital for a career in healthcare such as critital thinking, communication, adaptability, patience, resilience, and teamwork. (To learn more about the skillsets that medical schools value, please review the AAMC's Core Competencies here.)
Since research settings are smaller than the average UGA lecture class, you will also have the opportunity to build a solid relationship with a faculty member who can then write you a strong letter of recommendation.
If you are interested in pursing an MD/PhD program, you will be expected to have significant research experience as you must demonstrate your desire to become a physician scientist. You should begin seeking out research opportunities as soon as you know that you want to pursue a dual-degree program.
Undergraduate research has numerous benefits even for those students who do not wish to pursue research as a career. However, if you have no interest in research, it may be a better use of your time to engage in activities that you are more passionate about, such as clinical or community volunteering.
When should I begin doing research?
You should begin looking for research opportunities as soon as possible. Ideally, freshman or sophomore year. It can be intimidating to reach out to research mentors so early in your academic career, but you will receive training and support when you join a lab.
Due to course scheduling and the lock-step nature of certain majors, it can sometimes be difficult to fit in research prior to junior or senior year. However, you should not put off research until junior or senior year if you can fit it in sooner. Asking early not only means that you are more likely to find opportunities, but it also gives you the chance to remain in the lab for a longer period of time and to get more deeply involved.
How do I find research opportunities?
The University of Georgia is a very large, research-intensive institution. Nearly every faculty member on campus is conducting some type of research. You can get involved in research in a number of ways: as a volunteer, paid lab assistant or for course credit. If you are looking to get a paid position, keep an eye on your major's listserv for openings or check in with your career consultant at the Career Center and look on Handshake for any job postings.
If you are looking to simply volunteer in a laboratory or receive course credit (e.g., BIOL 4960) for research, the first step is to make a list of faculty members that are currently doing work you may be interested in. Review departmental webpages or use head to the Integrated Life Sciences page to narrow your search. The UGA Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) provides resources and tips for finding research opportunities. They also offer a limited number of research fellowships and assistantships each year.
Once you have found a lab you are interested in, reach out to the faculty member. E-mail is usually the best way to do this. In your email, express your specific reasons for wanting to join the lab (i.e., what about the research interests you) and provide some details about yourself and your future goals.
Finding a lab does require you to be proactive. Lab openings are limited. You should expect to send out a number of e-mails before you find an open lab. Do not get discouraged!
How "much" research should I do?
Our office recommends that you participate in a research lab for at least a year. However, keep in mind that medical schools care more about the "depth" of your research experience than the length of time. In other words, it is important that you are able to talk intelligently and in detail about your role in the lab and the goals/results of the project.
Students interested in a pursuing a dual-degree (e.g., MD/PhD) must dedicate a significant amount of time towards research and, if possible, develop their own project. Competitive applicants will have presented their research at conferences or symposiums and some will have written and submitted manuscripts.