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Research Experience

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While health professional programs typically do not require research experience for admission, there are many reasons why you should choose to get involved regardless.  One of the most compelling reasons for prospective applicants is that despite not being a concrete requirement, many applicants to health professional programs do have at least some research experience.  In fact, over 75% of success medical school applicants have participated in undergraduate research, and admissions committee for all healthcare programs value research experience.  As you entering into careers focused on evidence-based medicine, it is critical that you develop an understanding of how research is conducted, how data is analyzed, and what makes the difference between a good study and junk science.

Research is an active learning experience. While you do have background information and techniques that you must learn to be a contributing member of the team, most of what you get out of the experience beyond that is really up to you.  You must be self-motivated and committed to accomplishing goals outside of the classroom.  Through your experience, you will be challenged to think critically as you problem-solve and innovate solutions to experimental failures and roadblocks.  Additionally, undergraduate research is a good way to develop skills in scientific communication since you will not only be engaging with other students in the lab, but also writing papers, creating posters, and presenting your data.  Being able to articulate what you do the lab at a few different levels depending on your audience is a highly transferable skill to the field of healthcare - consider how you would address your patients versus your colleagues on a topic.

Overall, participating in undergraduate research can not only give you a deeper understand of and appreciation for science, it can also help you hone many softskills that health professional schools look for in applicants.

Lastly, working in lab can also be a good way to secure a strong letter of recommendation from a faculty member.  Lab environments are smaller than many of UGA's lecture courses, so you have the opportunity to connect with a faculty member and build a relationship.  Like the research itself, this is a pro-active process.  You must take the initiative by asking questions, discussing data, working hard, and showing genuine curiosity.  A high level of engage will give you give the faculty member insight into who you are and will allow them to highlight your strengths in their letter.

Unless you have selected a major which has research built into its curriculum you are not required to do research.  Students are still accepted into a variety of different healthcare programs (including medical school) without research experience.  If you are truly uninterested, then you would be better served committing your time to something else that you are passionate about, such as volunteering.

Remember that while research is not required by healthcare programs, there are some schools that will heavily prefer that you have the experience as it is integral to their mission.  You are highly encouraged to look into the schools to which you hope to apply to ensure that you are not limiting yourself. 

Additionally, if you are considering pursuing a combined healthcare degree and PhD, then you are expected to have extensive undergraduate research experience.

"Bench" research typically refers to work that is done standing or sitting at a laboratory bench.  These are often the "wet labs" that you associate with biology or chemistry.

Your undergraduate research experience does not have to be at the bench.  You can do kinesiology, psychology, sociology, public health, or any other kind of work that interests you. 

Publications are always a wonderful thing to include on an application, but healthcare programs do not expect undergraduates to be on a peer reviewed publication.  If this is something that you are personally very interested in, you should discuss this with the PI (Principal Investigator/Lab Head) of the lab you wish to join.  There are a multitude of factors that go into being ready to submit for publication and there is a wait after initial submission as well.  Some labs publish very frequently and others do not.  You should not be discouraged if you are not published by the time you graduate.

How do I get research experience?

There are many ways in which you can gain research experience, and healthcare programs will not care how you go about getting this experience.  You can opt to do research for course credit, volunteer in a lab, work as a paid research assistant, complete a summer research program, etc. 

If you are looking for summer programs outside of UGA, we recommend starting by googling some things you may be interested in or even specifically looking at schools that you'd like to visit or even attend in the future.  There are many summer programs nation-wide with varying levels of funding, and new programs appear all the time so doing your own research will be the quickest way to get plugged into something you may enjoy.  You can also check out the Summer Opportunities section of our Involvement page as well as the NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) page for opportunities.  Please remember that many of these experiences do have competitive application processes and that deadlines can be very early in the spring or even in the fall.  If you want to participate in an summer internship, you need to begin looking and compiling your application materials in fall.  It is not uncommon for these programs to require letters of recommendation, so be sure to think about who you could request a letter from!

If you are looking for paid experiences, then great places to start are Handshake and UGAJobSearch.  You can also visit the job search pages for local universities and well as check out job search engines such as Indeed

If you are looking to get course credit, then the first thing you should do is check-in with you primary/major advisor.  Some majors require research course credit and have specific requirements that you must be aware of before beginning to look for a lab.  Sometimes, your advisor may already have a faculty list as well with contacts.  Even if research is not required for your major, it is always a good idea to discuss anything you plan on doing for course credit with your advisor.

Once you have determined if you have any major requirements pertaining to research, you can begin looking for faculty who are working on projects that excite you.  If you are looking for research in the life sciences, the Integrated Life Sciences page has a list of all of the ILS faculty, some information about their research, and contact information.  Integrated Plant Sciences is another good place to begin your search. Departmental websites are another option, e.g. Public Health, Psychology, or Agricultural & Environmental Sciences.  Feel free to explore all of UGA's departments since there is a wide variety of research being conducted.  As you search, remember that your research experience does not have to be medically or clinically related, and that the skills you can learn in any of these labs are likely highly translatable.  (For example, within plant sciences you can find genetics, virology, toxicology, and more.)

After you have identified some labs that you are interested in, you will need to reach out to the PI (faculty member who leads the lab).  Usually, you will be reaching out to faculty that you have never met before so a professional email is critical.  You are asking them to invest time in you, so you must demonstrate that you are motivated, driven, and that you will put the work in on your end.

  • Use your UGAmail email account
  • Give the email a clear subject -e.g. "Research Opportunities for the Fall"
  • Use a professional greeting ("Hello Dr._________”).  Do not be vague here; address them by their name.
  • Introduce yourself: name, major, year.  If you have taken a class with this professor, mention which one and when.
  • Show that you have done some background research on them and that you know what they are working on.  You do not have to be an expert or understand all of the jargon, but you should at least know what they work on in general and be able to articulate why it interests you.
  • State your purpose.  Tell them what you are looking for in terms of opportunities.  For example, if you are looking for research for course credit, include that information.  If you know you want to commit to a lab for multiple semester, include that as well.
  • Ask for an opportunity to meet to discuss research opportunities.  The goal of this email is to secure a meeting and not to lock in the research.  The meeting will give both parties a chance to get to know each other and ask questions.  Treat it like an interview.
  • Be upfront with your availability and try to be flexible.  Give them at least two weeks of availability. 
  • If you have a resume, attach it to your email.  They may or may not care to look at it, but it's great to have there.

Finding a lab is a pro-active process and you will need to advocate for yourself.  Faculty get many emails per day, so give them ample time to reply - at least a week.  If you have not heard back, it's a good idea to follow-up.  Forward your original message, and politely inquire about whether they have had a chance to review it.  If you still do not get a reply, move on.  It is not uncommon for students to reach out to 20-30 faculty members before securing a research opportunity.  Do not feel discouraged if you get a few "No's" and if some faculty do not reply at all.

For more information and funding opportunities, check out the UGA Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO).  Additionally, you can review our Research Workshop Presentation here.