Research experience?

I’m just curious to know how much (and what type/depth) of research experience helps make an applicant more competitive. I’ve noticed that statistically not every applicant has research experience, but I’ve been actively trying to seek out some experience regardless and am wondering how “ambitious” I should get with it.

Earlier this year I landed a spot in the lab of a professor who is known for prolific publishing. He’s young, cutting edge, and has probably got the most exciting lab in the university I attend. Although his focus is in physiological ecology (specifically with plants) and not anything medical/human related. He ok’d me for working on a project he just got Career funding from NIH for, where I’d be working on plant hydraulics. There’d be a strong possibility of being published and even presenting at a conference. The issue is that once he found out I was pregnant he sorta stopped inviting me to lab meetings and never finished my paperwork to officially become an employee of the lab (he insists on lab associates being paid and not volunteering). I think much of that has to do with the physicality of the work his lab does (lots of heavy lifting and field work in remote locations). I’m left wondering if I should push it and keep bugging him…or if I should look elsewhere on campus for another opportunity. It’s a weird situation, and I don’t really know what to think at this point.

Does it matter much that any research I’d do with him has nothing to do with humans? I really have a passion for plant biology and enjoy it much more than other areas of biology. Also, do I really need the kind of experience and exposure I’d get in his lab (if I can talk him into letting me back in…lol)? Or can I still be competitive with a less ambitious role in another lab?

Thanks for the help!

Can anyone help a girl out? :wink:


I’m certainly not an expert in this area but I think I heard that research is a nice to have and it doesn’t have to be “human based”.

Do a search on past topics about research.

Hope that helps.


I agree with Lynda that research doesnt necessarily have to be “human based.” I think the idea of having research experience is to be able gain significant exposure to the laboratory environment and the dynamics of conducting research. To me, not having experience in a lab is akin to applying to culinary school without ever having stepped into a kitchen. Human contact or not, a great deal of medicine involves lab work.

In my case, im doing bench research in the neuro department at my local med school. Although I’m working with rats instead of humans, I have been learning a great deal, which I don’t doubt will benefit me incredibly.

As far as your situation with your professor, it is too bad that he is not pursuing you, but I take it as an opportunity to find something else! That is, if you are still keen on pursuing a research opportunity even if it means finding another avenue. Dont put all your eggs in one basket though. I’m not sure how much I can speak toward the plant biology question but I had a similar issue (regarding whether or not to take a plant morphology course in lieu of a more “appropriate” one). I was told to go for the “more med school appropriate” class, to which I signed up for microbio instead.

But then I have to ask, if you say you are more interested in plant biology over “any other aspect of biology,” I wonder, where does med school fit in ?

In regard to your research I dont think that finding something other than a plant bio lab is a “less ambitious role.” In fact, I think it is quite the opposite. If I were on an AdCom, and I had two applicants with the same grades and same stats, and it came down to applicant #1 having experience in a plant biology lab and applicant #2 having experience in a diabetes research lab, I would pick the latter.

Thats just all my 2cents. Hope it helps!

I must have really come across wrong. What I was looking for was more along the lines of finding out what other people are doing, or have done, as far as research experiences. I am not trying to decide on a class, and I am not viewing plant biology as being more (or less) ambitious than another branch of biology. Also, I’m not quite sure where questioning my motivation toward medicine even comes in. I personally see nothing wrong with having interests outside of medicine and happen to really enjoy plants.

When I asked about being “less ambitious” I meant specifically taking on more of a “minor” role in a lab…regardless of the branch of science it’s in…rather than trying to kill myself to get published and present at a conference. I’ve already got a lot on my plate, and the plant lab would require a lot of dedication and long hours. What it boils down to is just me wondering how involved I need to be with research to be competitive with other applicants.

Thank you for the responses.

Yes well thank you for clarifying your post. I suppose I already touched on what kind of research I will be doing but in my opinion if you are going to involve yourself in a research project (especially since you will have to discuss it during and interview) I think the more “ambitious” the better.

Granted, an ambitous position in a lab does require quite a time commitment especially if there is publication and presentation involved in the end. In my case I might have lucked out. I’m putting in 6-8 hrs a week at a med school at a different campus with pub. As far as less ambitous? What does that entail, I’m not sure. But be sure u have a position in the lab where you are involved enough to discuss all aspects of the project, not just cleaning beakers.

Not saying there is anything wrong with doing something plant bio related, but I was just told that anything more human bio related, the better. Which is why I was directed away from those plant classes and the ecology research lab (as much as I wouldn’t mind spending my weekends in the Everglades)

Good luck!