It’s hard to make yourself stand out on an application. Especially when all of your competition are given the same requirements. There are generally a few places you can stand out though on paper: (1) Through your personal statement and (2) through your work experience. The second may not seem like one to vary; most application have volunteer on ward, healthcare assistant, home care, etc. But really, this comes to how diligent and creative you are with the opportunities you attempt to obtain.
One of my favourite things to talk about on my work experience is my research. I was involved from start to finish for five years on a research project that ended up being published with my name on it because of some diligence and creative volunteering opportunities. In job and school interviews alike, this ends up being a topic of discussion for me and really sets me apart from peers. Most applicants do not get a great level of research knowledge under their belt and you tend to be ahead of the curve if you know how the curve is formed and how many standard deviations everyone is in relation to the curve.
So how do you land a sweet research gig and set yourself above and beyond your competition?
- The first port of call is generally, “what are your interests in medicine?”. If you can answer this question, your search field narrows greatly. You can have a targeted approach on who to contact.
- You are probably asking, I know what I like, but where do I go to get this? Research is generally conducted at large scale corporations, or rather usefully, at major universities. Another benefit is that medical research tends to happen where’s there are medical departments. You may not be applying to your local medical school, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for experience. Most researchers are more than willing to share their research as its their passion, and even better, they always have tasks that require more hands. And if one person doesn’t have it, then you have a faculty list with their research interests listed on university websites. Oh, and generally their e-mail.
- Take the time to investigate before contacting. Much like you did for your school choices, research what the professor you are contacting has done. They will inevitably ask you why you got in contact with them and what your goals are, so be able to answer this question. Remember, they are going to be doing this to benefit you, as much as you may be helping them, and more than likely they will be donating more time to you to explain the research and tasks before you can get on with it.
- Remember to network. It’s well and good to just focus on the research and doing a great job for your research professor. But especially if they are working at the medical school you hope to be accepted to, your best bet is to form a relationship with them and their team. You don’t know who they know or how far they might sing your (hopefully) praises. To that, they are in a medical field at a medical school and having someone you can speak to for advice in your applications, or even get a new one-of-a-kind reference from, can be the difference between acceptance and a gap year (assuming you don’t have one planned).
It may seem out of your league or daunting to cold call a research professor and ask for assistance, but in my time, I have found that they are more than willing to help people that take an interest in their work. I researched at the university I was accepted at and wanted to start at, and before I even went to the interview, I had met most of the medical school admissions team as my professor invited me to a research conference and social in my first two months. Make a unique path – it will certainly be a bright spot to discuss during your applications.