The Search for Research

by Faizan Malik

To strengthen their application to medical school, many USC pre-meds, such sophomore Joon Park, strongly consider participating in academic research in order to develop many of the qualities medical schools seek.

Trying to find a research position, however can be a difficult and overwhelming process – one that Park feels most pre-meds are unprepared for.

“No one really explains what research involves or how undergraduates can get involved,” Park said.

“People talk about how important research experience is for your resume or application but don’t really get beyond that like how to find research positions or get your foot in the door.”

Park suggests that an online message or bulletin board with listed openings would simplify the process and get more undergraduate students involved.  Faculty could post open spots in a laboratory, for example, and then list the minimum requirements, similar to job listings.

Director of Undergraduate Programs Dr. David Glasgow is familiar with undergraduate research culture and believes that the idea isn’t bad, but probably unnecessary.

Professors are busy with writing grant proposals, administration, and teaching on top of research, and probably would not fully utilize such a system, Glasgow said.

The idea of an online bulletin idea isn’t completely unfeasible, though.

“[Such a system] would likely work better with graduate and PhD students,” he said.

According to Glasgow, graduate and doctoral students involved in research are more likely to need an extra pair of hands and, more importantly, go out and look for them.
But graduate students do not have the authority to enlist undergraduates alone and would need the permission of the principal investigators who are professors, thus bringing the issue back full circle, Glasgow said.

Ultimately the success of such an online system rests on the shoulders of the primary investigators leading research projects.

However, Park believes that approaching professors is a daunting task, especially when he doesn’t know the proper way to go about it.

“As a sophomore with close to zero research experience, approaching professors, who are experts in their fields, is intimidating” Park said.

“I expect them to brush me off – and sometimes they do.”

On the other hand, Glasgow does not think that’s necessarily the case.  Professors are busy and it’s not uncommon to skip over emails or forget to respond. However, there are approaches that are more likely to be fruitful, Glasgow said.

“Visit your professors during their office hours … Send them your resume, make an appointment to meet them in person and be familiar with their work,” Glasgow said.

“Professors usually have different ‘sub-areas’ of research. Find out which sub-area you are interested in. Ask them questions. Mention to them that you are applying for funding and ask if they are willing to be your faculty supervisor.

“Meet with the professor. Potential faculty supervisors are looking mostly for students who have genuine interest in their research as well as dedication. Bring a resume. Show enthusiasm!” Glasgow said.

According to Glasgow, getting a research positions is not as hard as some think. The student just has to put in some effort and demonstrate that he or she is motivated.

“Faculty members always welcome interested students who meet with them and discuss their research” he said.

So in the meantime, Glasgow suggests that students who are interested should sharpen up their resumes, read about the research projects that interesting them, and most importantly, take the final leap into contacting and meeting up with researchers.

After all, the kind of courage, confidence, and enthusiasm necessary to take such a leap is precisely what one attempts to demonstrate by getting into research in the first place.

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