Roll Up Your Sleeves
Research experience during medical school can serve several purposes. It can enhance learning through exposure to the process of generating and testing hypotheses. It can provide insight into data analysis and interpretation. Research experiences put you in contact with clinical investigators and basic scientists who can serve as career advisors and mentors. Finally, a research experience during medical school can open the door to a research career by exposing you to the pleasure of discovering new knowledge and the intellectual challenge of biomedical investigation.
You have a number of options for structuring a research experience within the context of your medical studies. It can take the form of a brief independent study, a longitudinal experience, a summer experience, an additional year of study, or a second degree program (MMS or PhD). You can also pursue a scholarly concentration.
Deciding on an approach that is right for you requires careful thought and advice. There is no single approach that works best. Rather, you should seek information and advice from faculty and colleagues.
Identify the type of research experience you would like to pursue (clinical versus basic science; summer opportunity versus longitudinal experience; full-year experience). Students with minimal prior research experience should aim for a brief, focused period during which they are exposed to the research environment and the scientific method (clinical or lab-based). Periods of less than four weeks will not offer sufficient immersion in the research environment.
Identify potential mentors. This will most often be based on the research area or topic. However, it is critical that you and your mentor "click." The nature of the personal interaction is key. Information and advice from your peers can be very helpful. Your classmates can be one of your best resources for helping you to identify a research opportunity. If you are interested in research opportunities at another institution or abroad, seek out a faculty member who can provide you with support in making the necessary connections. If you do not know who to talk to, the Associate Dean for Medical Education can provide you with advice and, often, an introduction to faculty at other institutions.
Work with your identified research advisor to identify a project that is of interest to you, offers the kind of experience you are looking for, and is feasible within the time you have available. A good research project should have the potential to generate data that are new and of interest. Potential impact matters. It is reasonable to expect that you will contribute to work that will be published and that your contribution will be acknowledged through co-authorship.