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Tips for Finding Pre-Med Research Opportunities (Including During a Post-Bacc)


As a pre-med, you’re certainly aware of the importance of research skills and experience. Engaging in research as a pre-med can demonstrate to medical schools that you’ve developed scientific reasoning and problem-solving skills, and that you have a genuine curiosity about medical science—skills that are all on the American Association of Medical Colleges’ (AAMC’s) list of core competencies for pre-med students

However, if your college doesn’t have robust pre-med advising (or if you’ve taken a non-traditional path to medical school), you may be struggling to find opportunities to participate in research. Here are a few tips for finding research roles as a pre-med student.

Identify Your Interests

First, think about what you want to research. It isn’t actually necessary to do “wet-lab” research—that is, research inside a scientific laboratory that uses sophisticated equipment. You can participate in research that involves gathering interviews with patients, data analysis, or other skills. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you think about pursuing research opportunities:

  • Does pursuing research opportunities actually align with my career goals, or am I trying to check off a box? Not all medical schools are focused on research.
  • Do I have a burning passion for a specific area of medicine, such as genetics, neuroscience, or cardiology?
  • Am I concerned about the healthcare needs of a specific population, e.g. military veterans, LGBTQ+ people, or people living in poverty?
  • Is there an area I feel I don’t know as much about as I should, and would research work help me gain a better understanding?
  • Am I missing some key skills, such as scientific teamwork or quantitative reasoning that research could help address?

Bear in mind that, according to the AAMC, it isn’t even necessary to do research in medicine or the hard sciences as a pre-med. You can build research skills through projects in the humanities, social sciences, and other fields, too.

Start With Your University

While not all universities have robust research programs, you may still be able to find opportunities internally. Start by exploring department websites, faculty profiles, and research centers. Identify professors whose work aligns with your interests, and don’t hesitate to reach out expressing your interest in their research. 

If departments offer seminars, workshops, or networking events, try to attend some of these and build connections with professors, post-doctoral fellows, or grad students who may be able to help you find a role in any research projects currently in progress. University alumni may also offer another avenue for connecting with researchers—ask faculty members to help you connect with previous grads who may be appropriate contacts.

Your university may also have student clubs or organizations that focus on research. Absolutely reach out to any such groups and join them. If you’re interested in addressing health disparities in a specific community, joining a student affinity group or public service group focused on that community may also open the door to potential research contacts.

Look for Off-Campus Research Opportunities

While university-based research is a common avenue, don’t limit yourself to on-campus opportunities. Explore research programs at nearby hospitals, clinics, think tanks. Government agencies or charities focused on public health or serving specific populations may also participate in research opportunities—try to think creatively. 

Numerous online platforms can connect researchers with students seeking research opportunities. Websites like ResearchGateVolunteerMatch, or the National Institutes of Health (NIH) offer databases of ongoing research projects. Create a profile, highlight your skills and interests, and start browsing opportunities that align with your goals.

Get Involved Over the Summer or in a Post-Bacc

Many universities and research institutions offer summer research programs specifically designed for pre-meds. These programs can often provide you with the opportunity to not just assist with research, but to present your findings at a conference or contribute to a publication. This is especially useful if you’re considering pursuing a research-heavy career or even a dual MD-Ph.D. degree program.

Post-bacc programs often provide another avenue toward research opportunities. Some programs offer research as part of an overall record-improving effort, along with coursework and MCAT coaching. Other programs, such as post-baccalaureate research education programs (PREPs), are specifically about building a pre-medical student’s research abilities, usually within a “wet lab” environment.

These summer programs and post-baccs are all selective, and frequently very competitive. Make sure you thoroughly understand the requirements and deadlines before you fill out an application.

Be Persistent and Professional

Securing a research opportunity is like hunting for a job, so take an attitude of maintaining professionalism and politeness as you conduct your search. Be prepared for potential rejections and use feedback to improve your approach. Above all, be persistent—that’s a quality that will serve you well as a doctor, not just in your quest to find a pre-med research opportunity. Good luck!

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