Last Updated on July 9, 2020

Research for Medical School

Research experience looks great on medical school applications and there are often specific sections to describe your research or your publications. Students often regret not seeking out research opportunities prior to starting their applications and will be competing against applicants with Masters or Doctorate degrees. Here are 6 ways to get research experience as an undergraduate student:

Volunteer in a Lab

The simplest way to get research experience is to volunteer in a lab. You won’t get paid or gain course credit, but you will get basic research experience, learn lab techniques, and see if you like it. Start by reading professors’ biographies online to see what research they do. If their research sounds interesting to you, send them an email enquiring about volunteer research positions in their lab.

Directed Studies / Research Experience Courses

Some universities have “courses” in which you do original research with a faculty member. These courses are different than traditional lecture or lab courses; however, you still have to pay tuition fees for these courses and they will appear on your transcript. Research experience courses can be one or two semesters long, with your research topic appropriate to your length of commitment. You will have to arrange a faculty supervisor prior to the start of the semester.

NSERC Undergraduate Science Research Awards

These awards provide financial support to engage in 16 consecutive weeks of full-time research for a faculty researcher. Research must be in the natural sciences or engineering and you may do the research in the fall, spring or summer semesters. You will have to make arrangements with a faculty supervisor and submit your application, including your proposed research project, well in advance of your start date (e.g. January for summer research). Each university is allocated a number of awards, and they are awarded based on your academic record and research aptitude.

Other Undergraduate Research Awards and Prizes

Similarly, your school may offer its own undergraduate research awards for students who wish to participate in research under the direction of a faculty member. These provide financial support for one semester of full-time research, often for the summer term. Be sure to watch application timelines as these may only be awarded once annually.

Honours Thesis

The most significant research option for undergraduate students is an honours program. Honours involves completing a year-long (Sept-Apr) self-directed research project alongside regular coursework in your fourth or final year of studies. Honours is a significant commitment and will add seminar and other required classes on top of the Major degree requirements. Accordingly, you will graduate with an Honours degree instead of a Major degree. Plan to apply to honours in your third year and check that you meet GPA requirements. This option is recommended if you plan to pursue post-grad research such as a Master’s degree or a combined M.D./Ph.D. program.

Co-op Programs

Co-op programs generally require you to apply early in your degree and work full-time during four non-academic semesters. Not all co-op jobs involve research, but many do. Co-op usually extends your degree by up to a year, but in return you will graduate with Co-op designation on your diploma and significant work experience on your résumé and medical school applications.

Now that you know 6 different avenues to gain research experience during your undergrad, check out this blog here for helpful tips to secure a research positon.

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