As a freshman in college, I had no idea what research entailed. My idea of research was spending hours slaving away as a grunt worker in a lab.
The idea of research seemed mundane, repetitive and unfruitful. Now as a medical school student, I am incredibly thankful that I was snapped out of my incorrect preconceptions. Research is now something I enjoy and am passionate about.
Research is not only about pipettes and test tubes. Research is directly connected with critical and independent thinking, creativity and most importantly, discovery. Essentially, all knowledge in every academic discipline came from some sort of research.
Research may sound great in theory, but there are also many practical benefits of doing undergraduate research and reasons why every prospective medical student should at least try it.
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Research can assist you in class. If all knowledge is produced by research, then understanding research will help you obtain knowledge. Many students I've spoken with who were actively involved in research said they've done better in their classes, whether the subject overlapped with their research project or not.
In many schools, independent research counts as extra graded units for your major. For example, my research counted for three four-unit major elective classes. Instead of taking difficult upper-level classes, I received 12 units of straight A's for my research – and they all counted toward graduation.
Research can also provide clarity on your academic and career interests and goals. Determining what kind of research you want to do forces you to think about what you are passionate about. Do you want to learn more about molecular biology or how the heart functions? Do you have a general passion for learning?
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As you engage more deeply in your research, you will soon realize what interests you and what you could do without. Research has helped many people, myself included, confirm the desire to go into medicine.
I was initially interested in cancer research because I had a close family member who had cancer. Actually doing cancer research helped me not only understand the disease better but also not to fear it.
As an undergraduate researcher, you will almost always work with a mentor and possibly with a team. This is important because your mentor can serve as a guide in many different aspects outside of research as well.
He or she can become a friend, career counselor, job shadow candidate and even provide a strong letter of recommendation. Furthermore, working with a research team refines your skill set and prepares you for a lifetime of teamwork in the field of medicine.
Research will also stand out positively on your medical school application. Although many premeds do research, it is still a great way to stand out as an applicant.
Research projects are very unique and if you can show why you are passionate about your specific project, medical school admissions committees will definitely take note of that. Being published in a research journal as an undergraduate can be an uncommon and impressive accomplishment as well.
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Finally, as a researcher, you will be forced to read and understand primary literature. This is a skill that you will need not only for your undergraduate courses but also for the rest of your life as a future health professional.
And if you want to conduct research later in your career, understanding how to write primary literature is incredibly important. Engaging in research also contributes to learning how to think critically, independently and creatively. You will be trained in challenging the status quo and in synthesizing information rather than merely regurgitating it.
Edward Chang is a graduate of UCLA, where he attends the David Geffen School of Medicine. In addition to managing ProspectiveDoctor.com, he also counsels prospective medical school applicants. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow ProspectiveDoctor.com on Twitter, @ProspectiveDr.