TIPS FOR MEDICAL STUDENTS
- The earlier you start planning your summer, the better! If you are applying for a fellowship, grant, or other source of funding, a lot of those applications are due in January or February. All require you to submit some sort of research plan or proposal. Most (if not all) will require a letter of reference from your research mentor, and some require a second letter from a UNC faculty member. In order to give yourself enough time to find a mentor and to give both you and your mentor enough time to prepare a proposal and letter, it is best to start the process well before these applications are due. Take a look at our suggested timeline for MS1s pursuing research opportunities for a general outline of what you should be doing and when you should think about doing it.
- Cold emails are okay. If there is a researcher or project that you are interested in, it is fine to send them a “cold email”–a preliminary introductory email, even if you have never met them or spoken to them before. In the email, you can introduce yourself as an MS1, tell them what aspects of their research that you are interested in, give a sentence or two about any applicable experience or background you have, and then ask if you could meet with them for coffee or in their office to chat more about any opportunities they may have for you to work together. Some may ask to see your CV, just to get a better idea of your background and experiences, so it’s a good idea to have your updated CV ready to go (our Office of Student Affairs has some great instructions on formatting your CV, including a sample, if you need guidance on that.) Some will say that they cannot add anyone else to their team, and that is fine; some will be glad to chat with you and offer you a position!
- Do something because you’re interested in it, not just because you think it will look better on your CV or a residency application. There are so many options out there if you are interested in research, so you don’t need to force yourself to do something that you don’t like. It’s not worth it to spend your time on topics or projects that don’t truly excite you, and whatever you put on your CV or an application is fair game for interviewers to ask, so you want to make sure that you are excited about what you have done. Most people think that research has to be done in a lab, but if you check out our page on finding research opportunities, you will see that you can do research in anything from public health and drug discovery to environmental science and health policy.
- Apply for multiple sources of funding, just in case. If you end up getting awarded multiple sources of funding, you can always turn one down. Or, if you have a certain budget and two different funding sources each grant you half of your requested amount, then you can keep both. This is just giving yourself as much opportunity as possible to get funds for your project and living expenses.
- Ask older students for advice. Feel free to reach out to older students to ask what they have done for research or for their summer. People do a wide variety of things, and many students do really interesting research. If you’re feeling stuck or not sure what you want to do, MS2s/3s/4s would be more than willing to chat with you about their experiences and connect you with others who share your interests.
- Attend talks around the hospital and School of Medicine on topics you are interested in. One way to get to know what kind of research is going on around UNC is to attend departmental talks, grand rounds, and lecture series. The best way to know when these are coming up is to read the Vital Signs email that comes to your inbox every week, which highlights the news and events going on at UNC School of Medicine. This is not only a great way to get ideas for researchers or departments you could work with, but they also have a calendar of events at the bottom that lists upcoming talks. Most are only an hour and happen during lunch time (and many offer free food!), so it’s really easy to drop in and hear about the cool things going on here.