Tag Archives: veterinary

My Experience at SAVMA Symposium 2019

I had the good fortune to be able to present some topics near and dear to my heart at the 2019 SAVMA Symposium held in Athens, GA in March.  I presented on Medical Error, was on a panel about Internships, and presented Preparing For and Securing an Internship. I wasn’t sure what would happen with each talk. Here’s what did happen:

Medical Error

My main goal with this talk is to get people to realize that error is an activity intrinsic to any human endeavor.  It is particularly problematic in highly complex, tightly coupled, and obscure systems, as happens in a biological entity like our patients.  Ultimately, if an error happens, focus on What Happened, How it Happened, Why it Happened, and What to Do to Prevent it from Happening Again. DO NOT focus on the WHO.  Errors happen because of systems, not because of people. We spend a lot of time focusing on the person engaged in the error, when we should be deconstructing the system which led to the error.

I think this talk was well-received.  I tend to get positive feedback about it because most people have not gotten this message before.  A few questions were asked about how to deal with the emotional consequences of being the one who made the error.  The room was about 25% full and everyone seemed engaged, which was heartening.

Internship Panel

I was a late addition to this group because someone else canceled.  I was honored to be invited and to participate. There were three faculty clinicians and one vet from the sponsor organization.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the moderator was prepared for a panel session. Once things opened, we sat awkwardly for a little while before I proposed, “Why don’t we give a brief background on each of us?”  I felt like I had to lead the panel with questions for us all to answer. This was kind of OK- I’ve been on many internship panels over the years. I just felt uncomfortable because I felt like I was controlling the panel, which was not my role as a participant.

The room was probably 40% full, and the audience seemed engaged.  They asked good questions and the other panel members were helpful.  One spoke a bit excessively, but they were young and this was probably their first panel.  Overall, I think the attendees benefitted, but it may have been time slightly more efficiently spent.

Preparing For and Securing an Internship

I was super excited to present this talk.  I had only just launched The Vetducator blog, although I’d been writing posts for a few months by this point.  I was feeling very enthusiastic to help vet students with their next step and spent a lot of time thinking about the most impactful things I could say.  I expected to have maybe 6-10 attendees and we would circle the chairs in the room and have a chit-chat about internships. Well, it didn’t turn out that way.

By the time I was scheduled to start, the room was 90% full and people kept trickling in until it was standing room only.  My interactive format was not conducive to a room of 50+ students, so I adapted on the fly. I encouraged questions and began going through my presentation.  By the time I hit 30 minutes in, I was only 25% done with the presentation due to the great questions I got. I flew through some slides to hit on some major points and allow time for Q&A at the end.  Everyone seems engaged and interested and enthusiastic to hear my perspective. It was an extremely supportive experience as my first outing as The Vetducator.

I was extremely impressed with the organization of the Symposium from the speaker’s point of view- everything was well laid out, I had clear instructions of when and where to go, and had a moderator present to introduce me and help with technology.  I hope the students had a similar experience. Based on the experience, I contacted the organizers for the 2020 Symposium at Cornell and have arranged to present several hours there, including some topics from The Vetducator. Hopefully, I saw you in Athens and will see you at Cornell!

Do Grades Matter, or How I Came to Love My Grades

3PO is wise.

This year, I spoke at the SAVMA Symposium about internships and how to maximize your chances to get them.  I got a surprising number of questions about grades. “I hear some programs care about grades a lot.” “Do programs look at your transcripts?”  “Our classes are these amalgamated courses so we don’t get many different grades. Will that hurt my chances?” I was largely not prepared to answer these questions, because they confuse me.  Before I get to that, let me address the concerns.

“Do grades matter?”  Yes. The degree of interest will vary by program and individual evaluator, but almost all will make a note of grades and/or class rank.  When I evaluate interns, if they are in the bottom quarter or the top 3 of the class rank, I make a little note. I look at the rest of the application and base my decision largely on everything else.

I use class rank to cue me to what to look for.  If a candidate is in the bottom quarter and the letter of intent is poorly constructed and the letters of reference are not very laudatory, I would probably give them a low score.  If they are in the top 3 and the letter of intent is boastful and the letters of references do not mention they are easy to work with, I would probably also score them low.

“Do grades in specific courses matter?”  Unlikely. It’s possible residencies may look at the grade you got in their discipline in vet school, but looking through transcripts is usually not very illuminating and is time-consuming.  Again, individuals may vary- maybe the ophthalmologist on the selection committee makes sure every applicant at least got a “B” in the ophtho course in vet school. But I believe this is unlikely.

“What do I do if my grades are not good?”  “What programs care about good grades?” “What if my school gives one grade for the whole semester?”  “Do programs look at your undergrad grades?” These are the questions that confuse me.  If you don’t have good grades, that’s in the past.  You can’t do anything about it. You can’t know what programs care about grades, so apply where you want. If your school gives you a single grade for the whole semester, you can’t do anything about that.  If programs look at your undergrad grades, you can’t affect that.

Stop.  Worrying.  If you are in your pre-clinical years, yes, obviously study and try to do well.  But if it is in the past, there’s nothing to be done about it. Follow the advice I give on How to be Successful.  Be an RFHB. Aim for Zero. Show Up. All of that you can affect. The grades you got before, you cannot affect.

So, don’t think about them.  Focus on what you can control now, which is the future.  As C-3PO told Chewie, “He made a fair move, screaming about it can’t help you.”  Screaming about what happened in the past can’t help you. Please stop. Look towards the future.

How to be Successful: Be on Time

Image by annca from Pixabay

When I was growing up, my mom’s best friend was always 10 to15 minutes late to anything.  I never really understood it. There was always Something that came up last minute that prevented her from getting there on time.  This was my first encounter with people who are just tardy all the time. Other people are consistently timely. Most people are probably in the middle, and I want to sway you to be timely.  But first, why be on time?  

  1. You may miss out.  If you’re going to a meeting or presentation, you may miss out on some important information you would have liked to have.  Why go to a meeting to participate if you’re not going to get there in time to participate?
  2. You get noticed.  Trust me, showing up late to a talk turns heads. The student who walks into rounds even 5 minutes late bugs the heck out of me.  It disrupts the rounds and brings everyone’s focus to that individual. You don’t want to stand out in a bad way.
  3. It is disrespectful.  I think this is the nidus of what irritates me about people who are late.  They are implying that their time is worth more than my time. This is a very self-centered behavior.
  4. Putting the time in is how you get good.  Step number one for anything is to show up.  Show up on time to get the most out of your time.
  5. Successful people are timely.  OK, maybe the eccentric entrepreneur can get away with breezing into work whenever.  Think about the last time you went to see a physician. How long did you wait? Did that irritate you?  If a different doctor was on time, all things being equal, which would you choose? 

OK, so now you know it is important to be timely if you want to be a successful veterinary professional.  How do you get there? Here are some strategies which may help.

  1. The easiest method, which works for people who don’t have a chronic tardiness problem, is to aim to show up 5 minutes early.  Don’t aim to arrive on time, aim to arrive early. That way, if you have some slight delay, you’ll still get there on time. Also, showing up early indicates you are eager, energetic, and want to do whatever activity is happening.
  2. If you are chronically tardy, try keeping track of how late you arrive.  Then plan to arrive that amount of time ahead. This is like #1, except that it is more personalized.  If you are always 15 minutes late, aim to arrive 15 minutes early.
  3. My personal method is to set all of my clocks ahead 7 minutes.  This means if I arrive when my clock says, I am 7 minutes early.  I know there is a little flex time built into my clock, but 7 is an awkward enough number to do math in my head that it’s usually not worth it to me to figure out exactly how many minutes I have before I have to be somewhere.  I just know to aim right around the time when something starts, and statistically, I will be there early.
  4. Care about being on time.  Read the reasons why you should be on time above.  Talk to professionals in veterinary medicine.  I don’t know a single professor who likes it when students stroll into class late.  Once you BELIEVE it is important to be on time, it is easier to shift your behavior.

What challenges do you have with being on time?  Do you use any strategies other than the ones listed here?

Veterinary Academia in a Time of Uncertainty: COVID-19 Special Blog Post

I have to admit, almost all of the reading I have done the past week has been about the stock market and COVID-19.  I’m curious to know about what’s going on, and, although we have a lot invested in the market, I’m primarily bemused because I understand how the market works (Just stick to your pre-established investing strategy; the market goes up and down and buying as it goes up and down will work out great).  Nonetheless, the world is not business-as-usual right now. My posts here tend to ignore trends, holidays, etc., but I thought a post addressing the epidemic was relevant for my readers. How do you handle your professional progression in the face of COVID-19?

  • Don’t panic. “That’s easy for YOU to say, you have a job and aren’t worried about graduation or getting into vet school or an internship!”  I’m not saying not to worry- these are scary times. Having an emotional response is perfectly fine. I’m saying not to PANIC. You can make good, healthy, important decisions for your life and career, but not if you’re panicking.  So, step one is: don’t panic.
  • Be an RFHB.  Don’t yell at the airline counter agent about a cancelled flight.  Don’t yell at your physician or veterinarian for not being able to see you RIGHT NOW.  Don’t yell at your pharmacist for following insurance company regulations. Don’t yell at the admissions counsellor at the vet school.  Treat people with respect. We ALL have challenges right now.
  • Get information.  Things are in constant flux, and it’s difficult to know what will happen with the future.  The more information you can get, the more in control you will feel (even if that’s just an illusion).  A lot of information may not be available, but get what you can. Find out what the plans are for exams in your classes, when the plan is for graduation or starting an internship.  If information isn’t available, go back to step 1.
  • Go on a news diet.  I’m not suggesting cut off all news, but a lot of the news is repetitive or filled with unhelpful, fear-inducing information.  Unless you can look at the news with bemused wonder (as I do), I suggest dramatically reducing your input. Maybe check things out once a day. The Up First podcast by NPR gives news highlights in about 15 minutes, so it’s a great way to accomplish that. 
  • Reach out to others, even remotely.  Sometimes sharing our fears and concerns with friends, colleagues, and even strangers can help.  Reach out to friends and family. Ask questions on internet forums and Facebook groups. We are all going through this together- sometimes just knowing someone else is facing your troubles can help.
  • Focus on your circle of control.  What CAN you control? You can’t control if graduation will happen.  You can’t control students being dismissed from clinic rotations. You can’t control the epidemic.  You CAN control your emotional response. You CAN control your planning. You CAN control your own social interactions to minimize spread of infection.  When faced with a troubling obstacle, ask yourself what you can do about it. If the answer is, “Not much”, then shrug and move on.
  • Try not to worry.  We’re all fairly reasonable people in veterinary medicine.  We want the students to succeed. We want the best candidates for vet school, internship, and residency.  We want to support our students and colleagues. WE WILL FIGURE IT OUT TOGETHER. Believe that the people and institutions want what’s best for you and them, and we will come up with reasonable, balanced solutions.  If a school you applied to isn’t doing interviews now, try not to worry that they’ll overlook your application. They will figure out a fair system. If you got admitted to an internship in the US and live in an infected country, we will figure it out.
  • Life has challenges and isn’t fair. Although we are going to figure things out together, sometimes the outcome may not be what you wanted.  Maybe you don’t look good on paper but interview amazingly well, so missing an interview opportunity means you don’t get into vet school.  What’s the alternative- to maybe infect dozens of interviewers and other staff for your benefit? Maybe the internship in the US you got says they won’t take any students from highly infected countries.  What’s the alternative- to maybe infect the whole hospital for your benefit? Sometimes decisions made are not in your personal best interests. So, you need to consider: what do you do if the worst professional outcome happens?  Do you rend your clothes and curse the world or do you get back up and try again? This could be an opportunity for learning more about yourself and personal growth. “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”Albert Einstein
  • Keep your health.“Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.” – Count Rugen.  As long as you have your health, your friends and family, and your basic finances, you will be in a much better place to succeed.  If you let stress get to you, and this compromises your immune system, you will be in a much worse place and have further to go. Try to relax, follow social distancing, eat well, and take care of your mental and emotional health.

Above all, trust that whatever happens, you will get through it.  We all will. Be excellent to each other.

One Year Anniversary!

Steady progression over the past 9 months!

A year ago, March 2019, I launched The Vetducator blog. Let’s take a look at what we’ve done in the last 12 months.

I love statistics. Numbers are so wonderfully illuminating. When I am running statistical analyses, I am in my ‘flow’ state and time just drifts by. So, the numbers first!

Visitors: 28,209

Visits: 84,979

Posts: 118

Comments: 32

Podcast Episodes: 9

Paid clients: 4

The numbers are wonderful, particularly the number of visitors and visits. I am so grateful that people are reading and, hopefully, learning. I would like to spread the message and information even more broadly, so welcome suggestions on how to reach the intern/resident-bound population. Maybe in a few more years, once the students I have advised are graduating, they will come back and read the topics on internship/residency applications.

I continue to enjoy thinking up ideas and writing posts. As of this post, I have posts pre-scheduled through June 2020, have 28 written which need to be loaded into posts, and ideas for 108 more topics. WordPress continues to tell me my posts aren’t ‘optimized’ for readability. And I know blog posts 2000-3000 words are statistically better reads than my short posts, but I like keeping things simple and know the time of my readers is incredibly valuable.

What I’ve learned this year is that those interested in getting in to vet school are the most easy-to-access demographic and possibly the most passionate. I imagine those who want a residency are also passionate, but are hard to reach. I’ve also learned that it can be challenging to find good podcast guests.

This coming year, I plan to continue to post twice a week- Monday and Thursday. I am considering doing a second podcast series, maybe focused specifically for those interested in getting in to vet school. And I’d like to do more guest posting, but there aren’t a lot of people doing anything similar to what I’m doing in veterinary medicine.

Thank you for reading and participating, and I hope you keep coming back for quality content this year!

Behind the Scenes: How we Chose Interns

Image by Valentin Sabau from Pixabay

Before we start, you should know that every program does their intern selection process differently.  Evaluators care about different things. Some may use class rank as a cut point- they don’t evaluate anyone not in the top 25%, for example.  (You can’t do anything about this so stop worrying about it). Some may have a committee, or a single individual, or an advisory committee to a handful of decision-makers.  So, this is not universal. But I wanted to give you a peek into how I (and institutions where I have worked in the past) chose interns.

First, we would take all of the applicants and divide them according to school where they graduated.  Our committee was usually made up of 8 faculty members. Faculty would then pair up, so we had 4 pairs.  Each pair then indicated which schools they would evaluate applicants from. Usually this was based on people they knew at those schools.

Each pair then got all of the applicants from the schools they agreed to review.  The applicant pool was evenly divided among the pairs. Each pair then read all of the applications in their pool.  When I read applications, I made a spreadsheet with the applicant as a row, and then columns including letter of intent quality, references, leadership, teaching experience, research experience, class rank, CV, notes, and overall score.

I usually used a 4-point score: 4 for not-rankable, and 1-3 divided according to my estimation of them being in the top, middle, or bottom third of applicants.  Each applicant sent to the pair would be reviewed by both members of the pair. Then my partner and I would meet and discuss the applicants and agree to a score for each of our applicants.  Then each pair would send their ranking to the chair of the committee, who would organize them. We would all meet together as a committee and discuss the rankings, moving various applicants up or down according to information we had gleaned (e.g. by calling friends at institutions).

It was a huge effort and took a lot of time.  And, as it turns out, it’s probably meaningless.  In a study where we compared rank with intern performance, there was no relationship.  This is similar to interviews- they don’t really relate to the performance of a person in a position.  So we could probably accomplish this all with just randomly drawing the names out of a hat. But, like interviews, we FEEL like doing this process should improve our outcome, so we do it anyways.

Behind the Scenes Series

I was inspired to write a short series on how applications get evaluated throughout the academic process- for vet school, internship, residency, and faculty positions. Realize that these are idiosyncratic- my process is definitely different from other people’s processes. Nonetheless, I think it may be helpful/insightful. Enjoy these for the next two weeks!

Have a Life Mission Statement

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Strategic planning is one of those oft-maligned phrases which stinks of corporate America.  It involves ideas like Vision and Values and all sorts of other things that companies claim to espouse but probably don’t follow in reality.  The principle of strategic planning is sitting down and figuring out what your organization is about and what it wants to do and usually includes a Mission Statement, a list of Values, and a Vision.  Mission statements are either overly long, encompassing everything an organization may do, or pithy and non-helpful, such as “We strive to be the premier provider of this service.” But are they really so unhelpful?

Strategic planning is the process of deciding what it is you want your organization to do, look like, act like, and feel like.  Theoretically, it should form the foundation for everything an entity does. When in doubt, consult the strategic plan. When a decision needs to be made, consult the strategic plan.  This simplifies decision making, makes sure everyone in the organization is on the same page, and creates a clear direction for leadership to pursue.

The problem with strategic planning isn’t the process or idea of the thing.  The problem is that it is so rarely done well. This is particularly egregious in the mission statement.

The mission statement _should_ be a concise, clear statement of the fundamental goal of the organization.  One of my favorite’s is Pepsi’s old “We sell soda”. I also like IKEA’s, “To create a better everyday life for the many people,” and TED, “Spread ideas.”

I like these because they are short, simple, and help guide the organization.  Someone pitches to Pepsi, “Hey, this whole bottled water thing is huge. What should we do?”  “Is it soda?” “No.” “Well, then we don’t sell it.” (Obviously, Pepsi changed this position later.)  IKEA wants to help EVERYDAY life for MANY people. Will they focus on luxury goods for the 1%? Of course not.  A discussion at TED, “I think we could do some really cool dynamic lighting for our next conference!” “Does it help spread ideas?”  “Well, no, but it will look amazing!” Mission statements should present a CLEAR direction.

Instead, mission statements often drone on and get endlessly bogged down and watered down.  Here are some examples of mission statements I like less:

 McDonald’s: “McDonald’s brand mission is to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink.  Our worldwide operations are aligned around a global strategy called the Plan to Win, which centers on an exceptional customer experience–People, Products, Place, Price, and Promotion.”

What are you saying?  Why tell us about your operations in your mission statement?  Maybe if they had stopped at the first sentence I would be more on board.

An undisclosed vet school: “The mission of the CVM is to improve the health of animals and people by: 1) discovering and disseminating new knowledge and skills, 2) educating current and future veterinarians and biomedical scientists, and 3) providing innovative veterinary services.”

Another: “The College of Veterinary Medicine is dedicated to the enhancement of the health and well-being of animals and human beings through excellence in education, research, professional practice and committed service to the State, the nation and the world.”

Okay, yes… you are a vet school.  Of course you do teaching, research, and service.  These are mission statements which are so obvious and generic that they are unhelpful for guiding the organization.

Contrast these with some mission statements from vet schools I like:

“Our mission is to advance the health of animals, people, and the environment.”

BOOM!  “Should we hire a systems engineer?” “Will it advance the health of animals, people, or environment?”  “Yes” “Then do it.” “Should we hire an astrophysicist?” “Will it advance the health of animals, people, or environment?”  “No” “Then don’t do it.”

“[Our organization’s] mission is to lead the advancement of health and science for the betterment of animals, humans, and their environment.”

LEADING the advancement, not just following.  For the BETTERMENT- this may include physical health, psychological health, or arguably life improvements.

OK, now you know what a mission statement is and my preferences, I would like you to think of a mission statement for yourself.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Keep it short.  One sentence or less.
  2. It CAN change over time!  You don’t need to set in stone your whole purpose in life now.
  3. This may be really hard, particularly if you are early in your career.
  4. You may not be generic.  No “I want to help animals.”

What is the purpose of this exercise?  Well, like an organization’s mission statement, it may help guide your decision making.  Many veterinary professionals are familiar with the idea that they constantly get asked to do things, and if they keep saying “yes”, they will have no time for themselves or what they want to do.  If you have a mission statement, it can help guide your decision making. Let’s use mine as an example.

“I help people be better,” is my current mission statement.  It has been through a few iterations. First, it’s not perfect- it’s probably a little too simplistic.  I like it because it reminds me of some core ideas I like: Kaizen and self-determination theory. It pulls in every major thing I have done in my life: Boy Scouts, martial arts, dancing, veterinary medicine, relationships.  It’s focused on skill building and maximizing self-actualization. So now let’s put it into practice.

“Vetducator, can you help me with some statistics on this project?”  If it’s just plugging some numbers like an automaton, “no”. If it’s helping them learn a little about statistics while running some numbers, and contributing to a quality manuscript which will improve their CV or prepare them for boards, “yes”.

“Vetducator, would you like to add video and podcasts to the blog?”  Well, these things will probably help people with their career and life, so yes.

“Vetducator, do you want to write this book chapter?”  Have I written one before? If not, I might develop or learn a new skill.  If I’m not learning something, will this help others grow as people? Possibly, depending on the subject.

Your life mission statement can be general for your entire life, like mine, or you could focus it just on your professional pursuits.  It may not be for everyone, and I thought it was a bit hokey at first. The more time has passed, the more useful I have found having a life mission statement to be.  I at least recommend you work through the process to help distill what you really want to do with your life.

Post in the comments with what you think your life mission statement might be.  I will comment on the first ten to post! This is a developmental process- post an imperfect one- you can always get better!

6 Steps to Being a Professional via Email

I was talking to a surgeon friend of mine about applicants for their surgery internship program.  She told me they had three general pools- amazing, middling, and not-ranking. She emailed one applicant from each pool to set up a time to chat about the program.  Their responses fell out exactly as the group had already placed them.

The not-rankable applicant replied 4 days after the initial email, on Jan. 4th, “Hey, that sounds good.  How about 1/6 at 5pm?”

First, there was no address line.  Second, they only provided a single time.  Third, my friend had clearly instructed the applicants to schedule time the week of 1/7. Fourth, they were proposing a weekend, which is a bit of an imposition. Fifth, they only gave my friend 2 days to figure out the scheduling.  Clearly, this person does not have their act together, so will not be ranked.

The middling applicant replied within 24 hours, “Dear Dr. X, thank you for the offer.  I am available 1/7 at 11am or 1/8 at 12pm.”

This applicant included a form of address and provided two options during the week indicated.  A fairly reasonable response, so clearly a decent applicant. However, the applicant did not confirm the date once it was set or check in the day before. Furthermore, the applicant then did not answer the phone at the appointed time, moving them pretty close to the ‘not ranking’ pool.

The amazing applicant replied within 4 hours, “Dear Dr. X, thank you so much for the offer to talk.  I am very interested to hear about your program. I am available the following times: 1/7 11am, 1/8 12pm, 1/9 3pm.  Please let me know which works best for you, or if there is another time which would be better. Thank you again and I look forward to speaking with you.”

This applicant is clearly enthusiastic, appreciative, and engaged.  They had a rapid response, gave numerous options, and overall just presented a proper, professional image via email.  They also followed up 24 hours before the set time to confirm the day and time. Of COURSE they’re at the top of the applicant pile.

Responding professionally in an email does not seem particularly burdensome to me, but from this small sample, we can see that it is a skill which not everyone possesses.  And these are applicants for a surgery internship, who have done a rotating internship already, and, presumably, want an extremely exclusive position as a surgery resident.

EVERY email my surgeon friend gets from these applicants should be impeccable. How in the world do these applicants think they are ever going to get a residency position?  Okay, enough of my ranting, here’s what you have to do, Applicants of the World:

1) Respond promptly. This doesn’t necessarily mean in the same hour, but if you can respond the same day, that indicates you are enthusiastic and eager.  “But what if I’m in surgery all day!” Sure, but you do go home eventually, don’t you? When you do, send a reply.

2) Demonstrate enthusiasm.  Yes, you may be enthusiastic on the inside, but if you can’t express that, the reader does not know.  Show your enthusiasm in your word choice and what you say.

3) Be courteous. Respect the recipient’s time and energy.  If they are trying to schedule a time with you, give THEM as many options as possible and be willing to defer your time for theirs.  Don’t expect them to move their schedule for yours. Give plenty of notice.

4) Follow up.  If you have communicated about an appointment, send an email to confirm the day before.  If you have sent an email and don’t hear back, send a check-in message.

5) Use a form of address.  This one’s simple. In professional correspondence with people you do not know, address them properly in the email.  “Dear Dr. X,” or “Dear Mr./Ms. Y.” It’s not hard, it doesn’t take much time, it doesn’t cost any more. Why NOT do this?

6) Proofread.  Always proof your emails before sending them out.  I’d say a solid 10% of my own emails have some kind of typo I pick up after writing them which I would not have noticed if I hadn’t proofed them.

So, there you go.  Pretty simple steps to make sure your emails get perceived as professional.  Please share this around so that every email I get from now on will be wonderfully polished.

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?