Research experience is not a requirement for admission to medical school, but it can enhance your preparation for a career in medicine. Participating in research can enrich your understanding of what you learn in your college coursework. The science you learn in the classroom all comes out of research. Understanding more about the process of formulating hypotheses and investigating them can enhance your learning experience, and help you develop skills that will be of benefit to you in your work as a physician. Research experience also can lead to excellent alternatives to medical school for students who may be interested in pursuing careers in biomedicine or the life sciences.
Remember that research experience in a lab is quite distinct from clinical experience and observation in a medical environment. Many applicants are accepted to medical school who have no research experience but you will find it difficult to gain acceptance if you do not have some direct exposure to the practice of medicine in the real world to provide convincing evidence that you understand the demands of the profession you are seeking to enter.
Participation in research is not a technical requirement for admission to medical school but at some schools admissions committees may value research experience because of the ways in which research can help in the development of critical reasoning skills. Some medical schools tend to emphasize research experience more than others in admissions decisions. Research experience can enhance one’s chances for admission at many of the most competitive, research-oriented medical schools (at some medical schools the percentage of admitted applicants who have at least some research experience is as high as 80% to 90%). Depending on your goals, you may wish to consider participating in research during your college education.
Why would research experience be helpful if you plan to be a family practice physician and do not intend to follow a career path in medical research? One reason is that as a physician you will need to participate in life-long learning. You will need to read medical journal articles and assess their findings, and evaluate the validity of new research studies on disease and treatments. Being familiar with the process of conducting scientific research will help you evaluate the validity of research studies. Research experience can help you learn to “think like a scientist,” a skill that physicians need to possess.
If you plan to pursue an MD/PhD program, it will be extremely important that you gain significant research experience, as your research potential will be weighted heavily in decisions on admission to these programs. It will be important that your letters of recommendation from your professors highlight your research potential and ability to contribute to the academic field you plan to pursue.
Many programs at Indiana University seek to transform the way in which science is taught from one of simple information transfer to one of active inquiry. A great deal of research in the life sciences is conducted on the IU Bloomington campus, and there are many opportunities available for undergraduate students to become involved. Some special selective programs at IU Bloomington provide opportunities for entering freshman students, such as the Science, Technology, and Research Scholars (STARS) Program and the Integrated Freshman Learning Experience Program. However, you do not need to be accepted into one of these programs in order to have an opportunity to become involved in research. Many students find research opportunities through talking with their professors and consulting the listings of research position opportunities in academic departments in the sciences. Most IU students who are serious about becoming involved in research can find an opportunity to do so.
For more information on research opportunities please visit the HPPLC internship page or explore the links below.