Finding Research Opportunities
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Research at Penn
Although research is not required for admission to medical or dental school, it is a very valuable way of enhancing your classroom learning at Penn. And Penn is an exceptional place to explore research opportunities, given the vastness of the university’s resources and variety of its research centers. Because Penn’s Medical Center is part of the main campus, biomedical laboratories are literally at students’ fingertips.
One way to begin investigating research opportunities is to peruse Penn’s Undergraduate Research Directory, made available by the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF). The Directory provides a searchable database of research positions of all kinds, and includes hundreds of postings that are medically related. Some of the positions listed there qualify as Work-Study jobs, and therefore allow Work-Study students to meet their obligations while also expanding their knowledge of medical science. While many labs prefer to hire students who have completed some of their pre-med science courses, some are open to freshmen. Because of the number and variety of jobs listed, the Directory is the first place where every student should look when searching for a research position.
However, the Directory is not the only resource that you should use. Your professors are another critical source of information and guidance. Not only do many faculty maintain labs of their own; they have colleagues to whom they can refer you. So if you have been enjoying your neurobiology class—or your immunology class, or your biochemistry class, or whatever—and you want to explore the possibility of getting involved in research in that area, talk to your professor!
Be proactive in your search! There are many research centers and institutes on campus, all of which maintain Web sites with information about current projects. Click here to get a list of Penn’s research facilities. If you find a center or institute that is doing research that interests you, get in touch with them! Send an e-mail or make a phone call, and perhaps forward a resume and cover letter to ask about the possibility of becoming a research assistant. If you choose to do this, be sure to consult the Career Services Web site for more information about how to write effective cover letters and resumes.
Remember: medical research is only one kind of research opportunity available at Penn. Health professions schools value ALL research activities, whether they are medically related or not. It is the process of engaging in independent inquiry and analysis that is valuable and impressive. If you have interests in non-science fields, and want to pursue research in those areas, go for it!
Research Outside of Penn
Many students are interested in doing research during the summer, while away from campus. But how do you go about finding a research position outside of Penn?
Unfortunately, laboratories are not likely to post summer positions on national job-finding resources like Monster.com. Instead, you will have to do a lot of the legwork to track down a job. Use the Internet; one web site you may well find useful is the Pathways to Science summer research database, which covers a wide array of fields. There is a list of some formal programs at medical schools on the AAMC web site. But you can also visit the Web sites of medical schools and research centers in the cities where you will be living over the summer. Read about the current research activities going on there. Send cover letters and resumes to scientists who are doing research that interests you. Follow up with phone calls. At the same time, be sure to talk to faculty members here at Penn—they are acquainted with colleagues across the country and may be able to facilitate an introduction. Consult with family and friends who may be able to provide a referral. Network, network, network!