Undergraduate research is great, but only if you are passionate about it. While there are many benefits to getting involved in undergraduate research, it is not required for admission into dental school. Working in a lab setting can add an extra layer to your application if it is something that you are committed to and passionate about. However, if you are not interested in research, you would be better served dedicating that time to other activities such as volunteering and shadowing. If you would like to be involved in research, you should consider dedicating at least a year to the specific project.
If I choose to do research, when should I begin?
You should begin looking for research opportunities as soon as possible. Ideally in your freshman or sophomore year. It can be intimidating to reach out to research mentors so early in your academic career, but you will receive training and support when you join a lab.
Due to course scheduling and the lock-step nature of certain majors, it can sometimes be difficult to fit in research prior to junior or senior year. However, you should not put off research until junior or senior year if you can fit it in sooner. Asking early not only means that you are more likely to find opportunities, but it also gives you the chance to remain in the lab for a longer period of time and to get more deeply involved.
If you are interested in pursing an DDS/DMD-PhD program, you will be expected to have significant research experience.
How do I find research opportunities?
The University of Georgia is a very large, research-intensive institution. Nearly every faculty member on campus is conducting some type of research. Students at UGA can get involved in research in a number of ways: as volunteers, paid lab assistants or for course credit. If you are looking to get a paid position, keep an eye on the Biology listserv for openings or check in with your career consultant at the Career Center and look on Handshake for any job postings.
If you are looking to simply volunteer in a laboratory or receive course credit (e.g.,
BIOL 4960) for research, the first step is to make a list of faculty members that
are currently doing work you may be interested in pursuing. Review departmental webpages
or use the Integrated Life Sciences page to narrow your search. The UGA Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) also provides resources and tips for finding research opportunities. They
also offer a limited number of research fellowships and assistantships each year.
Once you have found a lab you are interested in, reach out to the faculty member. Email is usually the best way to do this. In your email, express your specific reasons for wanting to join the lab (i.e., what about the research interests you) and provide some details about yourself and your future goals.
Finding a lab does require you to be proactive. Lab openings are limited. You should expect to send out a number of emails before you find an open lab. Do not get discouraged!
How "much" research should I do?
Our office recommends that you participate in a research lab for at least a year. However, keep in mind that dental schools care more about the "depth" of your research experience rather than the length of time. In other words, it is important that you are able to talk intelligently and in detail about your role in the lab and the goals/results of the project.
Students interested in a pursuing a dual-degree (e.g., DDS/DMD-PhD) must dedicate a significant amount of time towards research and, if possible, develop their own project. Competitive applicants will have presented their research at conferences or symposiums and some will have written and submitted manuscripts.