Hello again! Last week I discussed on how the volunteering part of the “dynamic duo” of pre-med extracurriculars is extremely underrepresented. This week, I will be talking about the other half to the duo: research!
Disclaimer: If you think you need to do research to get into Medical School, please
refer to my “The Difference between Needs and Wants” blog post! This need is a misunderstanding!
So, you want to do research, do you? You should! It is a great experience that builds your scientific and medical inquiry and passion. Personally, my classes have become many times more interesting once I started doing research, because when you see topics in class actually being done in the field, it is a reminder to why we are all here learning this material. We are here to better ourselves and the community, and everything we learn in college (be it in class or out of class) is for our future benefit. Seeing this learning put into action is by far one of the most satisfying experiences of college life.
How do you get involved in research? Well to begin, there are two types of research “labs”- wet lab and dry lab. Wet lab, as the name implies, includes fluids! Wet lab is hands-on work with chemicals, reagents, and biological products (assuming you work in a biology related lab). Major fields in Wet lab here at UCSD are molecular biology, environmental biology, cancer biology, and signal biology. Dry lab, is more statistical and analytical work with science. Major fields in dry lab here are computer sciences (bioinformatics), biostatistics, and bioengineering.
Once you figure out which type of lab you want to get involved in, you must figure out how to approach a PI (Personal Investigator) on getting into a lab. Many people simply say “e-mail, e-mail, e-mail” and they’re right. However, there is a method to this madness of constant e-mails. I have prepared a checklist for those who wish to beef up their e-mails.
Be professional. Use a respectful tone and complete sentences. Do not use contractions (don’t, won’t, etc.) or abbreviations (“lol”, “idk” , “plz” )
Know what they do. These people have put their time, sweat, tears, and money into what they study, you better have some knowledge of what it is they study or exude an intense willingness to learn. Read up on their labs, their past publications, and their current projects. If you haven’t had any courses on the topic, you should be willing to not only work that much harder but also hear more rejections. If you have had courses on the topic, be sure to mention that!
Have a résumé/Curriculum Vitae on hand. I have had mixed reviews with e-mailing PIs with a resume in the first e-mail. Some say it saves time and shows intent, others say it might come off too pushy. It is up to you whether you want to send yours in the first e-mail, but you must have one ready at all times.
Tailor this résumé/CV to the position at hand. Remember to put relevant work experience on these two forms. Babysitting will definitely not hold as much weight as gel electrophoresis would in a molecular biology lab.
Don’t sacrifice your passion for a position. If you are in love with algae, do not apply to physiology labs just because they seem easier to get into. At the end of the day, it is you who will be working and investing your energy into the lab. If it does not make you happy, you should not be there.