Question about research experience

In looking through the MSAR, one of the things that jumped out at me was the percentage of accepted applicants with research/lab experience. In many cases the schools reported higher numbers of accepted students with this experience than physician shadowing/observation (it is typically in the 85-95% range). Are admission committees that biased towards applicants with research experience that they would value it over clinical observation? Or is it more that students are reporting their lab experience from prerequisite coursework?

That’s a really good question. In general, people like research experience because that is like the future of medicine, though by no means does everyone actually do research during or after medical school. I think in the undergrad realm, it’s more working on someone’s project rather than just doing general coursework. However, I could definitely see a research project being part of many people’s majors. The goal is to be “published”, and that can be accomplished by doing the grunt work for someone else. The major take away is to get the experience if you can, but I don’t think it’s really a requirement (though some research heavy centers/schools may prefer it). If you worked on something but don’t know what you did or what the outcomes were of the project, that’s probably worse than not doing anything at all.

Once you get INTO med school, if your research isn’t published, it never happened (according to our preclinical director).

Research is a great way to get your feet wet with academia, build social networks, and explore your personal interests. Publishing isn’t the end-all-be-all. If you get a poster or a conference presentation out of it that also looks good. There are places on ERAS to specify that. I know these advisers push for publication over all, but sometimes that’s not possible or it takes a long time. I have several projects that are winding their way through the process which will hopefully end up in publications but have been presented at conferences/posters/research competitions. Many residencies also require research as part of resident duties, so if you get started now you’ll have a deeper understanding of the process and can get your ideas off the ground faster.

Research is important and valuable for obvious reasons but in my opinion (based on almost 25 years of advising premeds and med school applicants) medical schools value clinical experience over research. That’s the first thing they’ll look for after determining that you have the academic heft to handle what you’ll encounter in medical school. They want proof that you know what you’re getting into – and that comes from shadowing doctors, volunteering in medical settings (a variety of them), etc. Community service is also important – and so is research. But I’ve had plenty of applicants get admitted to medical school with little or no research experience.


I think the research “requirement” depends on the institution you’re applying to. If you’re applying to one of the research heavy weights, then I’d saying having it along with clinical experience is an “unspoken requirement” and the stats seem to confirm this.

It does depend on the institution – but then again, I’ve seen plenty of nontraditional applicants get into “research heavy” schools with little or no research background. However, these applicants have had other compelling experiences/attributes to compensate for their lack of research (Peace Corps experience, Teach for America, etc.).