“Figure out which settings are the best fit for you and which subject matters you’re most interested in. … While med schools like to see consistency, they also want you to be able to talk about (and continue to research!) topics you are genuinely invested in.”
Welcome to part two of our research blog series! There are many different areas or topics of research that you could get involved with, but in the end, it’s all up to YOU; figure out which settings are the best fit for you and which subject matters you’re most interested in. This might take some trial and error, and you may even find yourself leaving one lab in favor of another. While med schools like to see consistency, they also want you to be able to talk about (and continue to research!) topics you are genuinely invested in – if one lab doesn’t work out, don’t force yourself to stay in it for the sake of continuity.
Below, you will find a summary of different areas where you could get involved. Feel free to go to the department websites for these subjects, peruse the professors’ descriptions of their research, and pick out ones where you think you could learn and contribute. Then, send off your email expressing your interest!
Benchwork or wet labs involve a lot of hands-on biology and chemistry; you better get those pipetting skills ready! This type of research can range from making and running gels to washing and imaging membranes. However, different departments do this differently:
- Lab stuff (think PCR, electrophoresis, chromatography, etc)
- Cell/molecular bio/histology
- Stem cell research, etc
- Animal research
- Lot of animal husbandry jobs (paying!) available for undergrads like working with worms/mice/fish/sheep/pigs, etc to study larger-scale biology. Require a lot of training for safety and animal welfare upfront. You will also probably transition from first only working with the animals (like husbandry and data collection) to data analysis as you get more experienced in the lab. Although getting into animal research is often time consuming, the skills you learn will be very valuable and can make you a better candidate for future animal research positions.
- Device fabrication and design
- Device making is a constantly evolving and growing area of research. Professors in the the Engineering College are likely the best people to contact if you are interested in getting involved with device fabrication and design. Devices range from artificial organs to stents, and even to prosthetics, and all of these areas and more need diligent and creative students.
- Artificial organs
- Measuring metrics of health
- Ergonomic modification
- Tissue Engineering
- Tumor detoectores
- Device fabrication and design
A bunch of different departments employ undergrads. A lot of these are interview or data analysis based. This is a good option for undergrads who hate working in a dingy basement lab with chemicals/cells but still want to get involved in research. Med schools want to see that undergrads understand the scientific method: forming a hypothesis, controlling variables, finding results, and determining significance – not necessarily that they are good at loading gels or specific hard science stuff. Any type of research is good!
- Psych: Social/Cognitive/Bio or Neuro/Developmental/Psychopathology: Many labs have opportunities for undergrad students to have a large role in the study, and not just doing busy work. The lab I (Madeline) am a part of is the largest longitudinal study in the country and I work with children and their parents every day as one of the study facilitators. Psych research is a rewarding field because a lot of the time it is more hands-on and interactive than a lot of the biology and chem labs on campus. Many of the psych labs are volunteer only, and take volunteers through Volunteer Services.
- Women’s Studies: There’s a lot of cool ones that look at gender disparities in psych of developing children/adolescents or in finding careers/glass ceiling and stuff. Sexual harassment in professional fields research, etc.
- Sociology: health policy (like Obamacare), wealth-health disparities
- Public Health
- Public Policy: I have a friend who analyzes tweets by Trump and other politicians and the vocabulary they use at the school of info to make conclusions about politics and comparative government stuff
Clinical research often takes place in a hospital or clinic. Different types include:
- Patient education based (shorter term and often easier to get published if not a longitudinal project): often run by undergrads, can give you a lot of patient contact hours, use surveys/interviews to measure data. Minimally invasive so undergrads are able to get super involved (except in the case of higher risk populations like children or PTSD/psych patients). I (Pooja) did this through Kellogg Eye Center showing monocular patients (lost one eye through surgery, trauma, or birth defect) educational videos about safety glasses to protect their one remaining eye and measured compliance through surveys at following visits.
- New medication/device based (harder to get started and get IRB approval): often only run by pharmacists/physicians so harder to get involved with as an undergrad. More risky for study participants/patients so they don’t let undergrads run it.
- Screening/epidemiology based: involves a lot of going through charts and data sheets, lot of opportunities for undergrads, involves a lot of stats to look at the data (not too much direct patient involvement but also easier to publish papers and study large-scale patterns in patient demographics). School of info, school of pharmacy, school of public health do a lot of this so you can contact professors from those departments. I (Pooja) did this through the Kellogg Eye Center looking at different skin/eye tumor types that were found in patients based on past chart data. I know there are projects that analyze x-ray or CAT scan data at the med school too.
You could also do a thesis within your major, typically during your senior year. This is a great opportunity to get a really in-depth look at research that you are personally invested in and, by the end, you’ll have a solid piece of work that you can show to medical schools.
Good luck in your search to find the perfect research project for you!