How to Explain Research Experience When Applying to Medical School

Research is an important component of the premedical experience and can make an applicant much more attractive to medical schools. Whether it is basic science laboratory research, a clinical study or a population-level investigation of a health topic, med schools are always impressed with applicants who show a predilection toward scientific inquiry.

In fact, some premed students even venture completely outside of the field of medicine to conduct research on topics as wide-ranging as ecology, sociology or engineering. All of these experiences can contribute to the growth of a premed student and significantly bolster a medical school application.

However, it’s one thing to be able to successfully take part in a research project, and another to be able to present one’s experience in research and reflect on its impact when it comes to applying to med school. Premed students sometimes struggle with presenting their research in a compelling fashion in their application essays or interviews.

Here are some tips that can help med school applicants present their involvement in research in a way that demonstrates sophisticated understanding and clarity of thought.

Become Actively Engaged in the Research

If you have been involved in research, it is important to be able to demonstrate in a clear and coherent fashion what your research is about and its broader implications for the field.

[Read: What Type of Research Helps You Get Into Medical School?]

Unfortunately, premed students too often become involved in a research project and focus solely on mastering the day-to-day technical aspects of the work without a grasp of the actual science. For example, they may learn the experimental techniques in detail without understanding the underlying rationale behind the experiments, or what questions the experiments seek to answer.

Without an awareness of the underlying concepts and ideas that relate to a research topic, you limit yourself to being a technician. On the other hand, by taking a scholarly approach to research, you not only gain more from the experience, but you can present the experience in an impressive way when it comes to putting together your medical school application.

Take a Process-Driven Approach to Presenting the Research

There are multiple steps to conducting any type of research study, whether it is laboratory-based, clinical or epidemiological in nature. All research comes from a gap in our knowledge of a certain field.

When you present your research in a med school application or discuss it in an interview, it’s important to first present that gap in knowledge that you’re trying to fill. Basically, this is the research question that you are trying to answer.

[Read: How to Find a Medical School That Leads to a Research Career.]

Often, the specific question you are trying to answer is a part of a larger overarching question that your research team is studying. It helps to first introduce broadly the question that your team is seeking to answer, and then provide specific details about what you’re studying.

Once you’ve introduced the question of interest, tell your reader or interviewer what approach you are taking to answer the question. This may be the experiments you’re using, or the clinical study or epidemiological approach that you may be employing.

After you’ve described the approach, it helps to present your research findings. Describe what your results show and what that means in terms of the question you’re trying to answer. Mention the implications of your findings for the field.

For example, if your experiments showed that a certain protein is expressed in high levels in a specific type of cancer cell, the implications of your findings may be that this protein can serve as a future pharmaceutical target for treating that type of cancer.

It’s important to keep in mind that in many instances, research does not yield definitive results. If this is the case, you should not feel demoralized or concerned about presenting your work. The most meaningful part of being involved in research is engaging at a scholarly level in the project, even if it does not yield results. Don’t be afraid to say that the study is still ongoing, that you have not achieved any definitive results, or that your results are so far negative.

If your research studies yield some data but you cannot draw definitive conclusions from them, it’s perfectly reasonable to present this data as preliminary findings.

Don’t Get Too Technical

One of the most common mistakes that applicants make when presenting their research is to get into too many technical details. The people reading your application or interviewing you are not necessarily experts in your field of research just because they’re doctors or professors at a medical school.

[READ: 3 Myths About Premed Research Opportunities.]

To show clarity and sophistication in your thought process, it’s important to distill complex ideas into simple language that any person can understand. It’s true that specialized topics have their own complex terminology, but as you work on presenting your findings in a med school application, think about the meanings of each term as opposed to the term itself.

Practice Your Research Pitch

One of the best ways to learn to present your research in a clear and interesting way is through practice. If you’re involved in a research project, take every opportunity to give presentations on your research at lab meetings, research seminars or conferences.

As you get ready for your med school applications, practice distilling your research into a two- or three-minute presentation. By doing this, you’ll be able to organize your thoughts, get a better grasp of your work and develop clear explanations that show you have a command of the research.

Research in any field can be complex, and medical schools understand that as a premed student, you’re not necessarily an expert in your field of research. So do not feel overwhelmed by the idea of having to present your research. Just remember that demonstrating an understanding of the scientific concepts is not as difficult as you may think, and presenting your research in a coherent way will make you stand out among applicants.

More from U.S. News

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