Laboratory Research

rat_cartoonBy now I’m sure most of you know that science is not my field of study, therefore I have little to offer in terms of information regarding science related research positions or careers. In an effort to balance out the subject matter of my blog posts, I’ve enlisted the help of a friend who is more than familiar with the field. As a third year Health Sci student at McMaster University who’s been working in a research lab for nearly two years, has taken an MCAT prep course, scored phenomenally on her MCAT and is in the midst of applying to medical school, she’s basically a treasure trove of information. She works in an immunology research lab examining the cellular mechanisms involved in allergy. Recently, I sat down with her and asked her a few questions regarding lab research.

Q: There are so many different fields of science and different types of research in each field, could you provide a broad classification?

A: There are wet labs and dry labs. Wet labs concern basic science and include in vitro (petri-dish) and in vivo (living systems, mice, rats etc) experiments. Dry labs are more clinical. They involve assisting doctors on studies, entering or analyzing data, writing up data for papers or assistance on ongoing clinical trials. There’s also health policy research, which is similar to research in a dry lab but more office work rather than lab work.

Q: How did you go about securing your lab position?

A: Networking is always helpful but when I first started looking for positions after first year, I really didn’t have many connections. Basically, I e-mailed a bunch of profs whose research I was interested in. I also tailored my e-mails to each specific professor by expressing interest in their specific field and addressing their specific papers. They want to see that you actually want to work with them, not just work somewhere.

Q: Did you have any difficulty finding a position? What did you find particularly challenging?

A: I wouldn’t say it was quick and easy. For instance, I e-mailed my current employer three times before receiving a response. As a first year, one of my biggest challenges was probably a lack of experience. A lot of profs responded saying that they were looking for students who have completed their second or third year and who have prior lab experience.
Q: What advice do you have for the interview process?

A: I would recommend reading the professor’s papers and familiarizing yourself with their research. Be prepared with specific reasons you want to work with them, show genuine interest and ask questions.

Q: What else can you do to prepare yourself for a job in a research lab?

A: It’s really important to consider the environment of the lab and to clarify what’s expected of you going in. Consider the hours you’re expected to work, the flexibility of your schedule and other time commitments. Also, you’ll want to clarify whether you’ll be working on a specific project or serving as an extra pair of hands for different projects. I found it was helpful to speak with other students working in my specific lab early on to get a feel for how the lab is run.


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