Undergraduate research experience is merely the involvement of a student in a formally conducted research experiment. Research opportunities are also referred to as internships or summer programs. Students may participate in research as an undergraduate through formal programs, which are often held during the summer, or informal experiences that are coordinated through their university. Premedical students typically work with a science professor or graduate student that is attempting to coordinate a project that hopefully leads to a profound scientific discovery.
Is undergraduate research a requirement for admission to medical school? Not necessarily. Many students that attend medical school have no research experience during their undergraduate years, while others have tons. Some medical schools place more emphasis on research that others in admissions decisions. It truly depends on the mission and vision of the specific medical school. For example, a school whose primary focus is producing primary care physicians will not likely value undergraduate research as much as a research-oriented institution.
On the other hand, students considering M.D./Ph.D. programs may want to consider getting as much research experience as possible. Many M.D./Ph.D. programs expect applicants to have at least a full year of undergraduate research experience.
Although not necessarily a requirement, undergraduate research experience provides premedical students with several benefits. First, undergraduate research can provide information about an applicant’s abilities and potential that would not be otherwise visible. Research experience informs admissions committees that the applicant possesses applied knowledge of the scientific process and experience utilizing critical thinking concepts.
Also, premedical students that engage in undergraduate research maintain the possibility of having their names on a publication. The ability to boast being part of a published research experiment is invaluable.
Lastly, many research opportunities offer some form of compensation. Students engaged in undergraduate research opportunities may be provided with wages, a stipend, or even a scholarship that subsidizes tuition expenses.
The best place to start finding undergraduate research opportunities is through your own undergraduate institution. Science professors and advisors can be a great resource to help find opportunities. Also, check with your local AMSA chapter – other students may be able to help you by sharing their experiences. However, here’s a few websites that have compiled lists of various research opportunities hosted throughout the United States.