Getting involved in research is not only a great way to enhance your medical school applications, but it also provides invaluable skills that can last for a lifetime. I first became involved in research during my junior year of undergrad, and it was definitely not what I expected it to be at first. For some reason I thought I would just jump into experiments and come out with breakthrough research within my first month. Never mind the fact that I had no previous research experience outside of a few class labs, and I still had a lot to learn.
My first few months of research involved stuffing pipet tips, washing equipment, and organizing specimens. Although I majored in biochemistry, I started off working in a genetics lab so I was exposed to a lot of new material that I had not yet learned. As time went on, I slowly began to learn about different genetics techniques and I also got to apply some of the biochemistry methods that I had learned. I was soon doing PCR, gene sequencing, electrophoresis, and an array of other things. It had its boring moments, but I always found everything extremely interesting. I was ecstatic when I was asked if I wanted to go travel and present a poster at a summer conference, and this was also the time when I wrote my very first abstract. Attending conferences allowed me to become comfortable with speaking to people and presenting research, and it also challenged me to learn more. There’s nothing worse than being asked a question about your research and not having a clue what the answer is (and yes, I’ve had this happen to me). I continued with the genetics research right up until the day before graduation, and then I had to stop because the grant was only for undergraduate students :-(
Shortly after graduation I applied for a position in the lab that I work for now. It was a stretch since the position preferred someone with a graduate degree, but I figured I would apply anyway. The research involved parasitology and immunology, and I figured it would be a great way to spend a gap year or two before medical school. I was ecstatic when I got the job, and it is what I have been doing ever since. I’m amazed at how much everything fascinates me even after four years, and I’m always getting to learn something new. I get to work with blood, human parasites, and animals! I even got a chance to do my first chamber surgery about a year ago, and for me there is no greater feeling than being able to cut open a living thing, suture it closed, and have it come back to life without any problems once the anesthesia wears off. I absolutely love it!
But in a nutshell, I wrote this post just to say that if you are a pre-medical student and can get involved in research, then please do! It not only helps reinforce some concepts that you will be taught in your classes, but it really does help develop critical thinking skills. Having a research background will cause you to question everything and look at material from many different standpoints. It also gets you out of your comfort zone and allows you to teach others about your work. It is one experience that I am glad that I have, and I most likely will continue to do a little research in medical school and as a physician.
In terms of publications, I recently found out that my lab just got another publication and I wanted to share a bit of it. It can be found HERE. Enjoy!