When news spread that I conducted a research project under the guidance of one of the most likeable professors in med school, I was met with several questions from juniors such as: Why are you doing research? Shouldn’t you focus on studying medicine instead? Med school is already so stressful — how do you manage your time?
In this post, I hope to shed some light on several misconceptions and sprinkle some tidbits I’ve learned throughout my journey.
1. “Undergrads shouldn’t do research — it is a postgrad / researcher / scientist thing.” 💭
Honestly, there is never a right time to start anything. However, by undertaking a research project during your undergrad years, you learn to think independently and critically — valuable skills that are constantly implemented throughout your academic and professional career. It is also an opportunity to discover your interests, while giving your C.V. that little oomph. 😜
Besides, has it occurred to you that everything we learn in med school, as well as present day treatments, tests and diagnostic tools, are products of research?
Research is the evolutionary key to medical advancement. Without it, we will still be battling prehistoric diseases and facing countless deaths. As a practicing doctor, you are expected to keep up with the latest findings and research regarding certain diseases and novel treatments in your domain of practice. This is achieved by reading peer-reviewed journals and properly extracting relevant information, a handy skill acquired during your research journey. Additionally, you’ll be more equipped with the nuances of obtaining reliable sources should you plan to publish your discoveries during your career in the near future.
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As an undergrad, there is no pressure to conduct ground-breaking research — the most important thing is to take that first step outside the box of traditional education to implement what you’ve learned, and synthesize your knowledge into a review that contributes to the medical community, rather than mere regurgitation.
2. “I won’t have a life if I do research. It’s impossible to manage my undergrad studies while slaving away at the lab.” 🔬
On the contrary, being an undergrad means you’ll be under the guidance of a mentor and most likely, working in a team! You don’t need to do everything on your own and shoulder the entire research project, unless it is a primary research that you’ve designed and you have grant deadlines to meet. (I have no regrets…)
A good mentor will give you feedback and schedule meetings to ensure your research is progressing on the right track and provide you with the reagents and equipment you need. By being in a team, the workload is delegated among other researchers, who also serve as mentoring figures whom you can turn to for technical help and advice.
Personally, research has taught me how to properly schedule my time. I picked a semester that had the least number of hours / credits and made sure no elective classes were scheduled, to kick-start my journey in research. Prior to that, I would search up different professors’ works and their research labs over the holidays to get in touch with them while deciding my academic interest. I spent more time doing lab work at the beginning of the school year, which tapered when exam season rolled in. On a side note, I still maintained my hobbies and hung out with friends while undertaking the research project, which bagged not one, but two university grants. 😁
Research has been one of the most meaningful activities in my undergraduate career that I will always reminisce fondly.
3. “Doing research is only worth adding to your C.V. if you get it published.” 📃
Your C.V. simply offers a general overview of your activities and accomplishments; it is in no way a reflection of the endeavors you have gone through, nor the skill sets you’ve acquired during research. Despite the popular notion that publishing your work in a peer-reviewed journal is the ‘gold standard’ / ‘end goal’ of a research project, there are other ways to share your findings via a poster or an oral presentation.
Most importantly, undergraduate research allows you to explore various labs, learn laboratory techniques that were only taught in textbooks, implement bio-statistics knowledge from class, as well as strengthen your written, communication skills and information literacy.
What you invest today will unravel a multitude of opportunities in the future.
I hope this has been an informative read. On that note, I would like to end with a quote by Carl Sagan,
“Science is much more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking.”
If you’re keen in getting your research published, stay tuned to my next post!
Best of luck & take care. ⭐️