Tag Archives: experience

How to do Meaningful Research as an Undergrad

So, you’ve decided you want to try out the world of scientific research!  Good for you. You may have fun and love it or you may discover it is not for you.  We’ve talked about the benefits before, so now let’s drill down on the nitty-gritty.  How do you get involved?

If it exists on your campus, I suggest you make your first stop the undergraduate research office.  These people have a wealth of information and can help you identify mentors and explain what the research program is like at the school.  At one institution where I worked, there was a whole undergrad research program, including classes and a distinction you could earn by completing a research thesis. I would routinely get emails from the undergrad office about students looking to do research.

If survey courses about research exist on your campus, these can be excellent resources to check the water and see if you may like it.  At one institution where I worked, faculty could offer 1-credit small seminar courses in research. I routinely taught one in Clinical Research and enjoyed showing the undergrads all the opportunities which exist.  I brought in guest speakers and some of the students ended up working with them. Other students in the class asked me to direct them to potential mentors.

You may be able to search for faculty research interests on your institution’s website and then contact those which interest you.  I’ll write a later post about how to email potential research mentors. Realize if you are ‘cold emailing’ you may not get a response, so come up with a backup plan.  Creating a short list of potential mentors is the safe bet.

Finally, if you have had any contact with a faculty member with whom you think you could get along, you can reach out to them.  This is probably a faculty member teaching a small, upper-level course and who may know your name. It’s usually best to make this request near the end of the semester or at the start of the next one, to avoid any appearance of bias during the course.

Once you have an appointment scheduled with a potential research mentor, treat it like an interview.  Ask them questions about how they like to work with undergrads. Remember, the purpose of this is to find out if you’re a good fit- you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.  Be sure to ask what your responsibilities will be, if you will be an author on an eventual publication, with whom you will be working, and what the time commitment is.

If you decide to pursue research, make sure to do it well.  Show up, be enthusiastic, and be helpful. What questions do you have about how to get involved in research?

Exorcising Demons

I wrote more than 70 posts for this blog in 6 weeks.  That works out to 1.7 posts per day or almost 12 posts a week. I didn’t set a particularly blazing pace- I wrote an article or three whenever I had some downtime.  I also didn’t set out to write that many that quickly. My goal was to be able to publish twice a week once the blog launched. I also wanted a sufficient backlog so that if a week or two passed without inspiration, there would still be posts for you to read.  I never expected to write so much so quickly

What the devil is going on here?  Well, the posts are generally fairly short- much shorter than experts advise for blogs seeking lots of search engine optimized traffic.  I could write longer posts, but I want to make these manageable for you. I am trying to change the way a large number of applicants function- the message needs to be palatable so you will adopt the changes I am recommending

I also get fired up as I start writing.  More ideas come to me in the middle of a post and I add them to an ongoing list.  I started with about 40 ideas, and as of this writing have 70 ideas in addition to the posts already written.  And more keep coming in every day- from my experiences at work, from my editors, from reading books and websites.

My editors are also an incredible source of inspiration.  My wife proofreads all the posts and occasionally makes suggestions.  One of my best friends also proofs them and contributes his own outside-of-vetmed perspective.  Both of these help tremendously, so it’s not only my brain working, but others’. I hope to engage several of my professional colleagues in the future so they can contribute their own vast knowledge and experience to the blog

But I think the most significant reason is I feel I am exorcising some horrible pent-up demon.  For god’s sake, how can it be 2018 and this material DOESN’T exist for veterinary applicants yet?  There are some good vet blogs out there- we’ll check in with them eventually- but no, I can’t find a centralized source where you can get all the information you need from someone who’s been there and done that already.

I see applications and interviewees all the time and just WISH they had found some of this advice before applying or interviewing.  I want to help, and I desperately hope this blog reaches applicants, so you can make your future career and life as successful as possible.

What I Wish I Had Known as a Student Applying for Internships

The Vetducator - Rock lines path symbolizing internship path.

I only applied to 11 internships, 9 of which were academic.  My letter and CV were not particularly good, but I was very assertive on clinics, did a good job, and got good letters of recommendation.  I didn’t participate in clubs or do any substantive research during vet school. If I applied nowadays, it is unlikely I would have gotten any internship, much less a good one.  I want to help you avoid my mistakes by giving you this advice:

Apply everywhere.  I have no idea why I limited the scope of where I applied.  I suppose I had some high-minded ideal of only wanting to go to places on the west coast.  Don’t do this. Apply wherever you think you could be happy for a year. Which is anywhere.  Even the frozen north or broiling south.

Polish your materials.  You need to reach out to your mentors and have them provide advice and perspective on your application.  Almost no one writes a good letter or CV the first time around without input. Seek advice constantly from those who know better.  If for some reason you don’t have mentors, reach out to me.

Don’t try to game the match.  I thought I knew how the match worked and ranked institutions according to where I thought I would get matched, rather than where I wanted to go.  This reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of the match. Rank where you WANT to go first.

Demonstrate leadership.  Although I didn’t participate in vet school clubs, I opened and ran a karate school for 4 years while in vet school.  I wish I had known that participating in student clubs may have helped my application more than running a non-vet-school-related organization.  I don’t think it hurt but, for the amount of time it took, it didn’t help as much as it could have.

Go to private practice.  I knew I wanted to do a residency and felt that an academic internship would position me best for this.  It’s probably true, but, in fact, I did a private practice internship which has been incredibly valuable for teaching students for the Real World.  You may need to take a more meandering route if you do a private practice internship- doing specialty internships or other roles after your internship- but it is better to stay in the system in some capacity.

Fortunately, you have the benefit of my experience as well as the entirety of human knowledge in your pocket.  Hopefully, you will make more informed decisions than I did. I have a pretty great life, so do not regret any decisions, but it would have been nice to know the consequences of my decisions when I was younger.