Top ten tips for getting into research as a medical student

Are you studying medicine or another healthcare-related subject? And are you interested in research? Here are our top tips for getting research experience alongside your degree. 

If you’re currently studying medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, or another healthcare-related subject, you may be interested in conducting research alongside your studies.

There are many benefits to taking part in research, such as developing analytical skills; learning about the process of research, and opening doors to new research-related career paths.

Medical researchers can work in industry, higher education institutions, medical research charities, or hospital laboratories. It is also possible to work in research alongside clinical practice, so you can get the best of both worlds.

As a student, it’s also important to look after yourself and maintain a healthy balance. There is a range of options for students interested in research, from smaller time commitments to longer-term projects and experience. These are all optional extracurricular activities, so do what you can but don’t overwhelm yourself - choose what works best for you and your schedule.

If you are keen to find out more, keep reading for our top ten tips on getting research experience that you can do alongside your degree.

  1. Do your research (about research)

Before looking for research opportunities, it’s important to think about what you want to gain from the experience. Consider what your research interests are, what skills you hope to develop, how much time you can realistically give, and what type of research might suit you best.

Research projects can involve primary research, where you collect data, or secondary research, where you expand on or compare existing datasets. You can also carry out an observational study, where you observe and track the health outcomes of patients on their current treatment plan, or interventional research, where you test out an intervention, such as a drug, medical device, or therapy.

Finally, you can also choose to do an audit, which evaluates an area of practice and identifies how it can be improved, or a quality improvement project, which involves planning and delivering an improvement strategy.

  1. Take an elective.

An elective is a period spent away from medical school where you can gain hands-on clinical experience. Electives usually last around 6-12 weeks, are often offered abroad, and allow you to gain experience in a particular area of medicine, or a different field such as teaching or research. Speak to your medical school about the options available and enquire about what financial and travel advice they can offer.

  1. Do an intercalated degree.

Intercalation is a compulsory part of a medical degree at some universities, while for others it’s an option that you need to apply for. It involves taking a year out to study and research a subject that you are interested in. This could be related to medicine, such as medical management or the history of medicine, or something completely unrelated like journalism.

By taking a year out, you will be able to fully dedicate your time to research without the stress of balancing your studies. It is important to note that intercalation comes with an extra year of tuition fees and living expenses. If you have financial concerns, speak to your medical school about what bursaries and funding options are available.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues!

Ask your tutors, as well as doctors and other healthcare professionals that you might meet during a ward round or at a clinic, if they know of any research projects that you could participate in. Even if they are not working on a suitable project themselves, they may be able to connect you with a colleague who is.

  1. Attend hospital grand rounds and conferences.

Hospital grand rounds and conferences are a great way to meet professionals with similar interests to you. They may be able to offer useful advice, inspiration, further connections, and opportunities for work experience, shadowing, or mentorship.

  1. Consider positions at university societies.

Reach out to relevant societies at your university, to see if they have any research positions open for students. It is better to do this sooner rather than later, as these positions are usually limited and therefore highly competitive. You can also ask peers who have had these positions previously for tips on boosting your application.

  1. Join a research collaboration.

A research collaboration is a group of healthcare professionals and students who team up to undertake a research project or audit. There are research collaborations for different interests, such as StarSurgBURST UrologyProject Cutting Edge, Academic Surgical Collaborative, and Polygeia.

  1. Look for opportunities advertised by research organisations.

Researchers and research organisations will also advertise positions themselves, either directly on their own websites or through universities and university societies.

Sign up to newsletters if they are available, so you can get regular updates on new opportunities.

  1. Get involved in academic publishing.

Working for an academic publisher is a great way to learn more about the peer review process and how to get research published. You can get involved by becoming a peer reviewer or joining an editorial board or committee. A few publishers are:

  1. Use social media for inspiration.

Universities, research organisations, research collaborations, and academic publishers will very often have a social media presence. You can follow accounts that align with your interests to get real-time updates on new vacancies and opportunities.

LinkedIn may also be a good place to get inspiration, by viewing other people’s profiles to see what kind of experience they have and where they got it from.

More resources

How can I get involved in research as a medical student? | The BMJ

Top 10 Tips: Getting into Research as a Medical Student – A Realistic Guide to Medical School | UCL

How to get involved with undergraduate research | Cardiff University

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