- How do I get involved in research as an undergraduate student?
First, one should explore the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) website. The OUR helps students discern their own research paths and find a mentor, to connecting them to research funding and programs at WashU and beyond, to providing opportunities to share their work, we support all undergraduates, in all disciplines, and in all schools.
Students participating in research must receive academic credit or be paid as an employee. The way to get academic credit as a Wash U undergrad is to take Bio 200/500 Undergraduate Independent Research. Also, take a look at the list of Potential Faculty Mentors. If conducting clinical research, one must enroll in Bio 265 – Experience in Life Sciences.
There are some excellent programs that where students can get involved in clinical research on the medical campus. To learn more, take a look at:
Advanced Summer Program for Investigation & Research Education (ASPIRE)
Short-Term Research Experience Program to Unlock Potential (STEP-UP)
With any of the above options, students will need to complete at least HIPAA and CITI and be added to the IRB if they plan to work on a project in any way. There are more requirements if they are going to be in a clinical environment involving patients that will include TB testing, HIPAA training, and, depending on the site, drug testing and a criminal background check.
One popular opportunity to conduct research in a clinical environment is the Pediatric Emergency Medicine Research Associates’ Program (PEMPRAP). This is a very popular program for WashU undergraduates offered at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. It’s an outstanding opportunity to participate in clinical, patient-oriented research projects.
- Do I have to do research to be a competitive medical school applicant?
While many pre-health students at WashU take engage in research, it isn’t mandatory to do research in order to be a successful medical school applicant. But if you haven’t done it, why not try it and see if you enjoy it? Any extracurricular activity that demonstrates your interest in scientific discovery is beneficial. And, if you think you may eventually be interested in pursuing a dual MD/PhD degree you should explore research relatively early in college. Students who eventually apply for MD/PhD programs typically work in the same laboratory over the course of much of their undergraduate experience.
- Where can I go to get help with my resume?
The Career Center staff will be able to assist you in preparing a relevant resume and cover letter. You may stop by their office in the Danforth University Center or call them and make an appointment at (314) 935-5930.
- Should I do research even if I have no interest in it?
Students should only do research if it interests them or if they have a curiosity of whether it’s something they might like. If you know for sure that you would not enjoy research, then I wouldn’t recommend doing it just because you think medical schools want to see it on your application. Chances are, if you don’t enjoy it you won’t do a very good job. But you may want to give research a try – you may find you love it.
- Should I still try to fit it in research if I already have two extracurricular activities I am involved in?
Students should be very careful at overextending themselves in college. This is where making priorities is key. Extracurricular activities will not make up for a poor academic performance when it comes time to applying to medical school. Also realize that a lab PI (primary investigator) will expect a dependable student who committed to their research. Engaging in research where you are unable to fulfill the responsibilities of your position does nothing to help you at all; in fact, it might even be harmful to your application if your PI writes you a poor letter of recommendation.
- How much time is required of research during the school year? In the summer?
This really depends on the type of work that you are doing and what your role is within the lab. Some research work could be a significant time commitment – upwards of 18 hours a week or more. During the summer, if working full-time, you are looking at least 40 hours a week or more. It is important to understand the expectations of the time commitment before you commit to a position.
- Does it matter what kind of research I do?
In general, any research has its value. Research in the basic and medical sciences, however, is probably viewed a little more favorably compared to research in the social sciences. Remember, however, that it’s the degree of involvement that probably makes the biggest difference.
- There is a job open for a research tech. Should I look into it?
I would look into what the job entails and if there is potential for growth within the lab. If you find that the job will entail nothing but cleaning glassware with no potential for anything further, I would probably look elsewhere. Remember though that there will always be a certain degree of “entry level” work involved in any research position in the beginning. The best way to handle this is to talk with the PI and find out where the position might lead. There may be a certain amount of “proving yourself” that you need to do before getting more deeply involved. Or it may simply be a position with very well-defined job duties that really has nothing to do with research project itself.
- How much research do I have to do to be competitive for an MSTP (MD/PhD) program?
Successful applicants to MD/PhD programs have demonstrated not just an interest in science but a capacity for it as well. Serious MD/PhD applicants have done extensive research that usually involves extended research on a particular question. A reasonable goal is to identify a basic science lab by the summer after your sophomore year, working towards a hypothesis driven independent project for the remainder of college including summers. To put it another way, an applicant who has done one or two stints of summer research for 3 months is not likely to be competitive for an MD/PhD program.
- Some of my professors have told me to consider academic medicine as I apply to medical schools based on serving as a teaching assistant for five biology courses during my undergraduate career. I have always had a loose idea of what academic medicine is and what it entails, but I was hoping that you would be able to better define academic medicine for me, as well as outline the path toward academic medicine.
Academic medicine essentially means that you are working in a capacity related to either teaching, education, administrative, research, health policy, and/or clinical work or some combination of any of these. This usually means that you will practicing in a teaching facility, usually (but not always) associated with a medical school. In contrast to academic institutions, many physicians practice in private practices where their main responsibilities will be mainly clinical work. Private practice can involve anything from a small group to a large multidisciplinary practice. Physicians can also work as hospital employees as well, often times as a member of a group contracted with the hospital. An interest in academic medicine, however, doesn’t limit you to any particular medical school, although some medical schools, such as WUSM, are known for producing academic leaders in their field whether that be in clinical work, research, medical education, etc.