Questions About Research

What 'Counts' as Research?
Finding School Year Research Opportunities
Finding Summer Research Opportunities

What 'Counts' as Research?

Question:  Hi.  I just had a question.  I've heard that med schools are looking for people who have done some research in a lab.  What makes a 'lab'?  What counts as 'research'?  Does it have to be molecular studies with a lab coat and a plate of cells?  Can it be a psychology lab?

Answer:  Any research experience will be of interest to medical schools.  Your depth of knowledge in any subject, demonstration of intellectual curiosity and interest in pursuing questions of interest via research for your JP and thesis, will be weighed favorably by schools.  So in a general sense, it all "counts."  Certainly work in a psych lab would "count."

If you're interested in pursuing research in med school and beyond, it doesn't hurt to have some experience in a science laboratory beyond your pre-requisite course lab experiences. This would not have to be molecular in nature - chemical, physical, biochemical, etc. would all be fine.  Again, this applies only to certain programs, and certain career goals you may have. And of course, if you're interested in the MD/PhD (or MSTP's), then in-depth research in a lab in your field of interest is critical.  


 

Finding School Year Research Opportunities

Question: I'm a first-year student and I'd like to get involved in a lab. Where do I start? 

Answer: Be sure that you have your time management and study skills well in place first - it can be a steep adjustment and it's best to feel settled here before taking on the responsibility of being a member of a lab. The Princeton Office of Undergraduate Research provides some suggestions for first-year students on their website


Finding Summer Research Opportunities

Question: I heard that medical schools value science research experience in applicants, so I feel like I have to get involved. If I want to do research over the summer, either at Princeton or somewhere else, what’s the best way to find opportunities?

Answer: Medical schools value many things in applicants, but what they really want, when you boil it down, is someone with a compelling narrative who made choices based on following their passions, which they could then tie back to their future as physicians. These narratives may or may not include basic science research (the kind of research everyone seems to assume is necessary). If you have no interest in working in a basic science lab, then don’t do it! There are other ways to demonstrate intellectual curiosity, teamwork, and other competencies that pursuing research may show (plus, your thesis is likely to be an intense research experience within your chosen concentration, so you’re likely to “do research” at some point at Princeton without having to look for it in the summer). Or, you might look at doing clinical research, which is more closely tied to patient care than most basic science research.

That said, if you’re truly interested in trying your hand at basic science/biomedical research, there are a number of places to look. At Princeton, the Office of Undergraduate Research compiles all opportunities and happenings on campus, and has a database that you can use to locate internships and funding options. Since you aren’t exposed to an academic medical environment at Princeton, we strongly encourage students to look into summer undergraduate research programs at medical schools, which may be sponsored by the MD programthe MD/PhD programor both. If a program reaches out to us, we advertise their opportunity in Vitals, and if one of our students has a particularly good experience in a research opportunity, we will include it on the Research page of our website.

Aside from formal programs, some students have had luck inquiring about research with faculty at colleges and universities near home. To do this, you would start by reading faculty members’ research webpages to find faculty of interest. You would then craft a professional email introducing yourself, describing your interest in their research area and why you’d like to get involved, and asking if they have any openings in their lab for the summer, and if not, whether they know anyone who might. To this email, attach a copy of your resume, which should highlight your past lab experience and familiarity with techniques (even if it’s only from introductory science classes and you have no other prior experience). The key to this kind of “cold emailing” is to sound enthusiastic, specific, and professional. You can use a similar method of seeking potential opportunities in your home area by using the Alumni Career Network or your personal network – asking your faculty who they may know, roommates or friends who have family members in health care, your personal physician, campus speakers (including our Doctor Is In presenters), etc, may also provide promising leads. For more advice on networking, refer to the Making Connections page of the Career Services’ website.