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Research? What is research :x

Guest krnboy

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Guest krnboy

I've been browsing this message board and read several people's threads mentioning how they were involved in research. I'm like :eek

What is this so-called research?

and how would you go about "doing this research" ?


I want to know T-T

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Guest MayFlower1



If you could provide some more specifics with respect to what you'd like to know, I'd be happy to answer any questions you have. I've been doing primary research for more than 12 years.



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Guest Biochem10

Ever heard of "Run for the Cure", "The Princess Margaret Hospital Lottery", "Walk for MS"??? All these events that are organized to raise money to find "cures" for diseases sponsor research. What is research you ask?? It's the process of discovery and it goes on in just about every area that you can think of (it's not just in health). Almost every professor you will meet in University is involved in some kind of research. Health research generally takes place in hospital research institutes, in departments of a university, at pharmaceutical companies or in government. Probably a very common example is the research that goes into making a new pill. Before one can even think of releasing a new pill to the public there's many people behind the scenes who figure out how the pill will work, how it can be delivered and whether it is safe. These people are generally chemists or biochemists and have advanced university degrees (MSc, PhD). This research generally takes place in pharmaceutical companies. Anyway, I hope this was a nice broad overview because I could probably go on and give you a million examples of what research is. Once you are in university and you go to your first lab, I think you will understand a little better what life science degrees really prepare you for (a MSc or PhD). These degrees generally involve discovering something novel.

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Guest Jerika81

I've been doing research in different areas for a few years now.

I just finished my Honours BSc in Psychology. When I first wanted to get in to research as an undergrad I just started talking to some of my profs and asking them if they were thinking of taking any undergrad students into their lab for the summer. They pretty much all said no so I started e-mailing people in the psych department who I didn't know but who did interesting research and asking them. In the end the head of the psych department was the one that responded and he hired me as a research assistant the summer after my second year and paid me out of money from his own grant.

Another way to get in to research is just to do an Honours degree, which generally involves doing a research project in your fourth year of undergrad and writing up a mini thesis on it (at least that's what mine was).

Most of the time if you want to do research people either aren't willing or can't afford to pay you out of their own grant so you have to apply for your own. There are lots of grants for students to do summer research like NSEARC etc. and probably more speficic grants in the area you want to do research in. I'm doing research on Wilms tumor this summer and I had to apply for my own grant to do that.

But basically, the first thing you need to do (in my opinion) if you want to get involved in research is to find out what type of research interests you- this probably depends on what you are doing your undergrad degree in, and then find someone who is doing research in that area and tell them that you're interested in their research and ask if there is any way you can get involved. And be willing to start out on a volunteer basis.

That's all I can think of for now in regards to how to get research experience, hope it helps.


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Guest ploughboy


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Hi krnboy,


Well, that's a pretty open-ended question...I see from some of the other threads that you're starting undergrad in the fall, so I'll try and aim my answer accordingly. Apologies in advance if some of this sounds condescending - I knew nothing about basic research when I started university and your question leads me to assume you're in the same situation. My background is EE and materials science, but I'll try and make this as general as possible. I'm sure people with life science backgrounds will jump in and set me straight if I say something that isn't applicable to that field. ;-)





The Relevance of Research Experience to Modern Medical School Admission Procedures



Department of Geriatric Premeds

Canadian Premed & Med School Forums



Methods of modern research and development (R&D) are described, and examples of scientific communication are presented. The advantages of participating in research as an undergraduate are considered in the context of applying to Canadian medical schools.





Research and development (R&D) is a huge activity both in industry and universities. People research the strangest things, from how cracks form in concrete to the migratory paths of small yellow birds. They do it for a couple of reasons. First is the pursuit of knowledge (corny as it sounds). There is a long tradition of scientific enquiry in western society, and it's generally viewed that discovering new knowledge, no matter how obscure, is a Good Thing.


A second, more practical reason is economic. The high standard of living we enjoy is a direct result of the development of new technologies, materials and production methods. There can be huge economic benefits to discovering how to do something faster, better or cheaper. For example, spending thirty years of your life researching cracks in concrete sounds silly until you realize how many buildings, overpasses and bridges there are in Canada, and how each and every one of them is exposed to cold winters and hot summers.





Research means different things to different people. Some researchers spend their days in front of a blackboard or computer, developing models of physical systems. Others spend their time turning wrenches and building gigantic pieces of experimental apparatus in their labs. Still others do nothing but plow through mountains of data collected over the years by other researchers, looking for patterns and connections. No matter what their job, all researchers like to do one thing - talk to each other. They get together at conferences, write papers (more on that in a minute), and chat over beers. They do this to share ideas, solve problems and get other people's perspective on their work. Almost without exception, any scientist I've ever met has been passionate about his/her work and willing to talk to me about it for hours.


(aside: What's the difference between an introverted physicist and an extroverted physicist? The introvert looks at his shoes when he's talking to you. The extrovert looks at *your* shoes.)





The need for scientists to communicate has been formalized in a number of ways. The most obvious example is the development of scientific journals. A group of scientists runs an experiment, obtains a bunch of results, figures out what it all means and publishes it in a paper or presents it at a conference.


A common benchmark for judging somebody's research productivity is how much they've published (textbook chapters, invited talks, papers etc). This is especially important for tenure-track profs, but "publish or perish" is a general rule for everyone. The more papers you've published (and the more times your work is cited in other people's publications) the more prestige you have. The pressure to publish results occassionally leads to scandal(1).



1) Papers


The work-horse of academic publishing is the scientific paper. Think of papers as a kind of super lab report. They start with a brief "abstract" describing the entire paper, so that you don't have to read the whole thing if you're not interested. There's an introductory section explaining why the subject is being researched and summarizing what other labs are doing. The next section explains the experimental set-up. This is followed by results and discussions, which form the bulk of the paper. The authors describe what was found, and explain the results in the context of what is known about the field. A brief section called "conclusions" follows. This is where the authors wrap everything up, and reiterate why their research is so darned important. The section at the very end is "acknowledgements", where DARPA or the Office of Naval Research or whoever is thanked for providing money. It's also polite to thank people who helped out in some way, but who aren't listed as authors.


Papers have anywhere from three to dozens of authors, depending on the field. The atom-smasher guys tend to have dozens of authors on each paper, other fields not so many. Not everbody listed as an author will have a direct hand in writing the text of the paper. The first author on the list does most of the writing and a lot of the work, (s)he is the "principal researcher". Modern science is pretty complicated, it's hard to do anything all by yourself. To do work of any quality you need collaborators who help out with the experiments or analysis. They might do a little or they might do a lot, but they're listed as authors if they've done anything significant.


Unfortunately, "significant" is a tricky word. Because research productivity is so important, people tend to be a little uptight about making sure they're included as an author if they feel they've made any sort of contribution to a paper. As you can guess, this occassionally leads to some pretty tricky political situations. People have actually been killed in disputes over authorship(2).


Papers are published in journals. "Nature" and "Science" are two of the biggies, but there are hundreds (thousands?) of them, most dealing with narrow technical fields. Journals are "peer-reviewed". You can't just send a paper to a journal and have them publish it (although there are some journals with a reputation for publishing almost anything). You send your paper off and it gets reviewed by several experts in the field. They will either approve it for publication, suggest revisions or reject it outright. This feedback is supposed to be anonymous, but in some very specialized fields everybody knows everybody else, so you can likely guess who some of your reviewers are (and it's always a good idea to cite their work in your paper!)


2) Research as an undergrad


Research is labour-intensive, a scientist can work for six months, a year or more putting together results for a three-page paper. Competent, cheap help (i.e. grad students and bright undergrads) is vital to operating any sort of lab. Profs are always looking for extra pairs of hands, and sometimes even have a budget to pay for it (research assistantships, etc). Talk to a bunch of your profs, find out what they're working on and if it sounds interesting ask if you can work for them. Don't do this while you're a frosh, you'll have enough to worry about in your first year (GPA etc).


You will find premeds here and in real life who consider washing glassware in a professor's lab to be "research". Personally I doubt that adcoms see it the same way. If you think the lab and the people in it are really cool then sure, start as a bottle-washer. Once you've demonstrated that you're interested in the work and aren't too clumsy, start pushing for more interesting jobs. As an undergrad, depending on the field you could wind up writing programs to analyze data, building equipment or running rats through mazes. Depending on the work and on your prof you might get your name on a paper as an undergrad. If later on you become a grad student you are expected to publish a few papers for a research-based masters and a lot for a PhD (this varies by discipline and school).



3) Applying to meds


So, what does all of this have to do with getting into medical school? Good question. I don't know for sure, but I can think of a few reasons why having research experience makes you look good to an adcom:


a) It shows initiative on your part - you went out, found a prof whose work interested you, helped him/her and you learned a lot in the process. A person with that kind of initiative, curiousity and love of learning would make a good doc (in my opinion)



B) If your experience is significant (i.e. you weren't just washing glassware) it shows you've got a brain in your head and can think independently. Even if you don't get any publications, if you can describe the overall project to an adcom and explain your contribution to it, that's pretty impressive. It demonstrates that you're not just a "fact-sponge" who had a high GPA because he regurgitated the right answers on the exam. Succinctly explaining highly technical material in a stressful environment (i.e. meds interview) demonstrates your excellent communication skills.



c) Depending on your residency (the training you do after your MD but before you practice on your own) you may be expected to perform original research and publish results. Previous experience is probably an asset here. If you intend to pursue academic medicine, research experience shows that your decision is well-grounded and that you didn't just wake up one morning and say "hey, it would be cool to be an MD/PhD!"



Having said all that, there are lots of other ways that you can demonstrate your curiousity, communication skills etc without working for a prof. Work for a prof because you want to, not because you feel you have to.





R&D in general is cool and is important for society. Having research experience is a nice thing to put on a meds application. However, adcoms won't stamp a big fat "REJECTED" on your forehead if you've never had any research experience. There are lots things that are waaay more important (GPA, MCAT, presenting yourself as a really nifty human being during your interview, etc)





The author would like to thank Ian Wong and ezboard for providing a forum for this discussion. Tim Horton's contribution to this work is also greatly appreciated.




(1) V. Fabrikant et al, Concordia University Montreal

(2) J. Schon et al, Bell Labs New Jersy






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ploughboy.. wow, that was beautiful :D


krnboy, so you want to do some research after 1st year i'm presuming, summer of 2004?

start looking early, your winter break is a great opportunity. go onto departmental websites, there's often a detailed index of the faculty, read up on project descriptions and if something really interests you try emailing the scientist or even visit their office when school starts up. this method gives you access to a huge bank of researchers, but the chances of landing a job are slim. when I did it, most of my replies were "sorry I already have a summer student" or "sorry but I'm looking for an upper year student"

your second approach is to apply to summer studentship and there are a lot of those - immunology, medical biophysics, hospital for sick children just to name a few. you'll see "outstanding 1st years are welcome to apply" on most of the applications, and it makes sense since you're competing for spots with 2nd and 3rd year students.

good luck with it, and just remember to start looking early cause spots fill up early!

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Guest Hilde

krnboy..you're still quite young...even if you can't land a paying job in the summer of your first undergrad year, volunteer anyway because the lab may very well hire you/pay you the following summer. Hey how could they reject you when they don't have to pay you right? Just show your love of learning!

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Guest ploughboy


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"Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing."

- - Wernher von Braun.




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