This is one of the most frequently-asked questions we hear from prospective applicants.
Much emphasis is placed on this component of the med school application, so we think it is worthwhile to dispel some of the myths around obtaining ‘mandatory’ research experience before applying.
So, does research experience really matter to Admissions Officers reading your application?
While this is not a yes-or-no answer for us, the most important consideration is whether or not a student has effectively conveyed why they plan to incorporate research into their career as a healthcare provider or not.
Before seeking out your first research opportunity, we advise pre-meds to sit with that statement. Healthcare providers take many forms, and it may paint a clearer picture of you as a potential future M.D. to double-down on a highly-personal extracurricular or raising your MCAT score, rather than squeezing in some research before your application cycle.
Much like all components of the application, our advice as to which component to invest in—whether that be research or not—is highly-dependent on the individual.
A pre-med who has done his or her self-reflection as to why they are getting into medicine and who can clearly explain why they have elected to pursue X, Y, or Z other activity over research will read much more passion-driven on an application than the student that took the first job in a lab that they could find.
First, know WHY you plan on incorporating research into your career as a healthcare provider. Then, commit to finding, pursuing, or creating the type research experience that calls to you.
Pressure around pursuing research experience stems from the fact that research is a key endeavor for many medical schools. In fact, many schools have even written research into their mission statement. (Note: reading a school’s mission statement is a great way to assess what type of candidate they are looking for!)
Knowing this, we advise pre-meds concerned about getting research experience under their belt to consider what type of school they wish to attend and might qualify for, given their GPA and MCAT scores (whether projected or real). Finding a key research experience and nabbing a publication or two under your belt can be helpful for some research-based medical schools, but that doesn’t mean that signing up for year of bench research will make your application stand out, especially if research was simply a box to tick and not something that meaningfully contributed to your understanding of the field of medicine.
Again, our main advice for this question gets back to self-reflection and how well you know yourself as a med school candidate and future care provider. Decide whether research is the right fit for you as a pre-med student based off the type career you wish to build as a care provider in the future.
Beyond bench research, we also advise that applicants consider other branches of research outside of traditional bench research. Of the many types of research that we value, our Admissions Officers include social sciences, clinical, and humanities research.
If a student is interested in pursuing research as a care provider or if they simply want to find out more about what that path would entail, we recommend first connecting with primary investigators, professors, or physicians at their or nearby schools to find out about project opportunities. Alternatively, the AAMC website has a comprehensive database of undergraduate research programs where students can apply for temporary summer research positions.
The Bottom Line: When it comes to research experience, a student’s application should reflect what that student feels most drawn towards in medicine, and should demonstrate that that student has elected to passionately pursue those interests. Communicating that passion and self-reflection is what makes an application truly shine, not that you have ‘ticked the research experience box’.
Want More Medical School Application Hacks? Sign Up Below to Receive Our Pre-health Newsletter!