Research skills are well sought after particularly if you are in a medical or health related field. Even if you do not want to pursue a “research career” per say, getting such research experience under the belt during undergrad is a great way to learn new skills and it looks amazing on your CV. This blog post will be more tailored towards students in the medical or health field but a lot will still apply to other subjects.
Why gain research experience?
You will learn key skills such as organisation, team work, critical thinking, project planning and management, problem solving etc.
Explore career directions by getting involved in different research activities and talking to different professionals to see what you enjoy.
Looks great on your CV! It showcases extracurricular activities and initiative in acquiring new opportunities relating to your field. You can use this as a good example for where you have displayed important skills that you can use in whatever you career you go into. I used a lot of examples from my undergraduate research experience for my applications, they are great conversation starters.
Get to see how evidence-based medicine works and how it relates to your medical or health field. This will open your mind to the role in research in medicine and health and in healthcare. You are likely to use research in some aspect of your career, so knowing the basis of research puts you at an advantage in understanding the application of experimental techniques and clinical uses.
Working with academics and clinical researchers to build a network. Network building is key in every field and you will be surprised how meeting different people from different disciplines in your field will be great value!
Publication opportunities! Being involved in research, whether its a small or big role, is likely to get your name on a publication which is the main currency in an academic career. Getting published always adds extra brownie points to any career. My 6 week research placement at Imperial at the end of my 2nd year got my name on a publication which I talk about a lot!
You will learn something new! I learnt so much about brain stimulation and pain during my research experience, even though it is not the field I am now, but it was really interesting and I can enter into conversations about aspects of this topic. If you are studying a health related topic, doing research will really open your mind to new interventions, drugs, mechanisms, causes of disease and in what ways these come to be.
How to gain research experience?
Network, network, network!! Cannot stress this enough but the more people you speak to you and approach the more likely you are to get research opportunities. Attend conferences, seminars, lectures in fields that you are interested in and speak to different academics and researchers. Show genuine interest and always take their contact details so you can follow up on your conversation via email.
Personally contact your lecturers, personal tutors and other members of the faculty. During my second year I emailed loads of professors and lecturers just asking if they have any research opportunities and showing interest in their work. That is how I managed to get my research experience at the Musculoskeletal Lab in Imperial. Majority of lecturers ignored my email but eventually a senior lecturer got back to my email and said he was looking to take on some students for a summer project and was willing to have a meeting with me to go through the project.
Explore opportunities outside of your university at different organisations (charities are a good example like Cancer Research UK) or other universities that may do summer research opportunities. You will be surprised how many academics, PhD students and post-docs look for undergraduate students to help with some aspects of their research, and they will take students from different universities. Some universities also have specific undergraduate research programmes such as Imperial which has the UROP scheme open to Imperial and non-imperial students. Take advantage of these and actively look for these opportunities.
Although the variety of research opportunities may be limited right now due to COVID, research is still going on, whether that is COVID related or otherwise you can still gain experience this summer! Labs and universities are slowly opening and will be looking for student researchers as research is always high in demand. You may also find more remote research opportunities which are also very useful so don’t miss out on them. Getting research experience during undergrad is invaluable and it is something I recommend all students to do whatever field you are in!