Makomed's Weblog

How to Get into Research Trials

Posted on: May 9, 2007

Actors who want to make it big in Hollywood have to have membership in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). In order to obtain the SAG card, however, the actor has to have been part of a semi-important film project. But, to get the role in the project, the actor has to have a SAG card.

It’s a catch-22. The same situation applies to getting a research position. Research behaves like the ever-elusive Leprechaun, cackling away while you chase the rainbow. Face it, research is a coveted position and a handy jewel to decorate your application with. Sure you’ve got the 4.0 GPA, and the 30+ MCAT score, but nowadays it’s not enough. You gotta separate yourself from the pack. Answering phones and emptying urine bags at your local Emergency Department won’t impress Admissions. In the cutthroat world of pre-med, you gotta show your chutzpah and research is the bar-mitzvah that’ll separate the men from the boys. It’s tougher than getting circumcised.

But, there’s ways to get in. Basically, you have to:

1. Beg

2. Wait

3. Market Yourself

When you finally scour the news rags, or search through craigslist, or talk to your favorite research professor, don’t just ask for a position. Beg! Grovel your way and push your self-esteem aside in order to feed your own ambition. You’re a pre-med head, right? This should come naturally to you.

But don’t offer to volunteer just yet. Maybe you’ll be given a small stipend, but if you immediately say that you will do the work for free, you’ve given up that small wage you could have had. Wait until you think you’re losing your bid, and then offer to volunteer, instead of working for a small fee. Try to hold on to a modicum of dignity.

The way I got in was through waiting. One of the doctors in the hospital I was a patient at was going to lose his researcher who had just obtained a residency match. He needed a replacement quick and two whisks of a cat’s tail later I was right in front of him sporting a big grin. I had no experience whatsoever, but the doctor was desperate so I took over the old researcher’s job. It’s always a good idea to start sniffing around for some open research positions right after Match Day, around the middle of March, and before September.

Finally, market yourself. Nobody wants a fool off the streets without any research experience under his/her belt. But if you have lab skills, phlebotomy skills, ECG skills, and are very very organized, well, that’s pretty much the spirit of a researcher right there. Greater emphasis on the lab skills for those who endeavor to work with animals and microscopic subjects, while phlebotomy and ECG skills are geared towards human research. Organization and time-management is an absolute MUST for both.

One last thing to keep in mind: research positions are the beans & rice of your AMCAS application plate. The meat is your MCAT and GPA scores. Try to cook up the best meal to offer to Admissions.

Well, good luck.

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