Premed research opportunities help you develop essential skills and attitudes for becoming a doctor, whether you are applying to MD or DO programs, and especially if you are looking to pursue an MD-PhD program. But how to find the right research activity? And how do you know if it’s a quality experience? In this article, we will help you determine what research experience will bolster your medical school acceptance chances, and provide you with tips that will help you find the perfect premed research experience for you!

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What to Look for in Premed Research Opportunities How to Find Premed Research Opportunities FAQs

What to Look for in Premed Research Opportunities

It’s important to learn what medical schools are looking for when they review research experiences in your application, whether it’s the AMCAS Work and Activities section or Experiences section of the AACOMAS application process. So, what should you look for in a premed research opportunity?

1. Quality vs Quantity

This is the golden rule for all your application components. It's not the number of words in your medical school personal statement that will impress the admissions committees, but the quality of thought and articulation. It’s not the quantity of medical school recommendation letters that will help your candidacy, but the quality of those references. And it's not the number of your research activities that will help you develop important research skills, but the quality of your experiences.

“During undergrad, I focused on activities that I enjoyed! I liked public health research, so that’s what I involved myself with. I was passionate about working with low-income patients, so I sought an opportunity to do that … Research is also becoming more important to schools, so I would prioritize inclusion/participation in a research activity.” – Dr. Monica Taneja, MD, University of Maryland School of Medicine.


“One of [my research experiences] is a continuation of my thesis honors project with the human performance lab at the UC and it's a project about muscle mechanics so we're just adding a little bit more onto that and turning it into a paper and for my thesis and then the second one is a community engagement project with immigrant and refugee youth.” – Sherry, BeMo student.


Focus on the program’s objectives and the kind of skills you will be able to develop during the project. Having only 1 good research experience which helped you hone key skills will be much more valuable than 20 projects where you do not get the opportunity for self-improvement.

2. Time Commitment

Medical school admissions committees like to see dedication, responsibility, and commitment in their applicants’ applications. Your time commitment to a research experiences in undergrad can demonstrate these qualities. If you jump from one premed research project to the next without having much effect on the project itself, this myriad of experiences will not impress the committee members.

So how many hours of research do you need to impress the committee members? While the quality of your experience matters more, aim to have around 400-500 hours in total. MSAR can be a useful tool in determining which schools value research—and how many experiences you should have.

“MSAR was a great resource as I built a list … I noted the number of volunteer, work, and research experiences that accepted applicants had and focused on schools that had averages that matched my numbers … As you apply, activities that you are passionate about and can show longevity [in] are more important than one-off things that just check a box” – Dr. Monica Taneja, MD.


This means that if you participate in a research project for a couple of academic semesters on a part-time basis or participate in a summer undergraduate research project, you will hit this number without any problems. This shows to the committee that you were really a part of this research project, that you were a part of the team, and that you dedicated your time and effort to working on this research. Summer research for premeds also means you can dedicate more hours to a project.

“I was able to essentially treat my research job as … a full 40-hour a week job … In undergrad I was maybe doing you know 10, 15, 20 hours a week of research but having [my] full time and effort committed to that allowed me to make a lot more progress without having to necessarily make like sacrifices in other areas of my life.” – Rishi, former BeMo student


3. Research Skills

Whether you choose to get involved in clinical research or social science research, you must aim to develop certain skills. Research skills are easily transferable, and the field of your research project is not as important as the skill set it hones, such as gathering and analyzing data, verbal and written communication skills, analytical and critical thinking skills, and so on.

Getting involved in research that is directly related to your field of interest is a great feat, not only because this will impress the medical school committee but because you will certainly enjoy the experience!

4. Results

Your research experience does not have to result in discovering the cure for cancer. A research opportunity can result in a publication or conference participation, or a great reference letter for medical school from your principal investigator.

A quality research experience should result in more than a mention on your medical school resume or CV. A research experience should leave you with new knowledge, new skills, new connections, and new opportunities! If you loved the research project you participated in, it might inspire you to pursue more research! If you develop good relationships with your teammates, you are more likely to have future network connections that can help you through medical school and residency. Basically, a research project should result in more than a check mark on your med school application.

“Through my undergrad just increasing my diversity of experience … gathering all the different aspects of what medicine is about including a lot of the social determinants and things like that I wasn't really aware of going in after high school. I just thought medicine was all about medical stuff and all the hard science but it's so much more than that and I'm glad I had my undergrad research to experience that and I just was able to be exposed to everything but still I'm focused on my interest through research.” – Sherry, BeMo student, on her undergraduate premed research experiences.


How to Find Premed Research Opportunities

So now that you know what constitutes a good research experience, let’s go over some of the ways you can find top-quality premed research opportunities.

Reach Out to Professors, TAs, and Instructors at Your School

Approaching your instructors in a science class is the first and easiest step to take if you are looking for research opportunities, especially if you do not have any research experience at all. Your professors and teaching assistants might be personally involved in research projects or know colleagues who are participating in research. You can ask if any positions on the research team are available and if so, who you can send your research assistant cover letter and resume to. These projects are often looking for assistants, scribes, and other team members who can help in the research process.

Keep in mind that your chances to participate in this opportunity and any of the opportunities we list below depend on your academic standing, your skills, your references, and more. You must work hard, get good grades, and develop a relationship with the instructor before you can approach them for this opportunity. If you are a good and dedicated student looking for research opportunities and they are not participating in a research project personally, they can recommend you to their colleagues, which will help your chances of getting the position.

In addition to speaking with your instructors, pay attention to any job postings or volunteer postings on your school’s website and job boards. While research opportunities are rarely posted externally, it does happen. Then you can direct your resume and cover letter directly to the email address indicated in the posting.

If you're working on a research assistant cover letter and are looking for tips to make it stand out, check out this infographic:

Check Out Other Colleges

If you find that no research opportunities are currently available in your own school, check out colleges and universities near you to see if their science departments are looking for research assistants. Some departments openly post volunteer research positions on their website, so do make sure to check them out.

You can personally reach out to instructors in the departments that interest you the most and introduce yourself. Explain that you are a student at another school who is looking for research opportunities. Starting as a volunteer is the perfect opportunity for someone who does not have any research experience. Focus on self-improvement and development at first, and then demonstrate to your research team that you are a dedicated, responsible adult who they can trust and work with. You might move up the ranks if such an opportunity is available.

“If you're um interested in certain types of research it is helpful for the interdisciplinary nature of certain research to be fostered at some of these bigger academic institutions. For example, I did a summer research program here in the University of Iowa … and a lot of the work done with that would involve doctors in the hospital collaborating with people in bioengineering at the university … that's one thing to think about it's sometimes easier at these big undergraduate universities.” – Rishi Patel, BeMo student.


Use Connections at Premed Clubs

If you are involved in a premed club or society at your school, ask your peers about their research experiences. Older students might know which professors at your school always need research assistants, so even if these professors are not your direct instructors, you will know who to reach out to. Older students may also advise where to look for opportunities at your school and beyond. Perhaps they shadowed a physician who is always involved in research and can always use an assistant. Or they gained some clinical hours for medical school in a hospital that is currently involved in a research project. Do not be shy to ask for help from your older peers. They have been in your situation and know how frustrating this search can be. They also know if an experience will be of value to you, point you in the right direction, and give tips based on their own experiences.

Reach Out to Hospitals and Physicians

Your own extracurriculars for medical school can lead you to research opportunities! After spending much of your time and effort gaining quality shadowing hours and volunteer hours to learn new skills and build new relationships, these extracurricular activities can also be used to find research experiences. Reach out to the doctors you shadowed, especially if you managed to develop a friendly rapport, and these physicians would remember your work ethic and intelligence. Even if they are not participating in research personally, they may give you the names of their colleagues who are looking for assistants or know of research projects happening in their institution.

Additionally, check out the websites of local hospitals, medical facilities, and research facilities. They may advertise research jobs. You can even reach out to your family physician to ask if they know of any research projects happening in your town/city.

Find Summer Research Programs

Summer research programs are ideal for most premed students. While you may take a class during the summer, students tend to have a much lighter academic workload and can dedicate most of their attention to extracurriculars like research. A huge advantage of these programs is that you can focus on research only. After successfully completing a program like this, you may not need to gain any more research experience to bolster your application.

Finding and applying for summer research programs will take some time. You may be required to gather a multitude of documents such as transcripts and reference letters, prepare components like essays, and fill out lengthy application forms. Some programs come with scholarships and stipends, which will alleviate the need to keep a part-time job during the summer.

The potential downside of summer research opportunities is that many of them have a variety of fees. As some of these programs are designed specifically for students who have no or limited experience in research, they ask students for application and program fees instead of paying them for their research participation. Considering how much medical school costs, and other related costs, sit down and plan your budget before you send in applications to summer research programs.

Look for International Opportunities

If you are adventurous, you can look for premed research opportunities abroad. These can be great for exposing yourself to new cultures and learning a new language. However, if you want to be strategic, you must keep a couple of things in mind.

If you complete a research project outside of North America, this might look great on your resume and med school application, but you might not miss out on a quality recommendation from your supervisor. Furthermore, the admissions committee may wonder whether you pursued this opportunity because you were truly intrigued by the research project, or as an excuse to travel. Unless your application shows that taking up this opportunity was a genuine desire to participate in this kind of research experience, it may come off as a distraction rather than a serious endeavor.

Also remember that these opportunities can be pricy, as you will need to pay for the application fees, travel, accommodation, and living expenses while living abroad.

Enroll in SMPs & Post-Baccs

Special master’s programs (SMPs) and post-baccalaureate programs are also a great option for students who need more time and opportunity to enhance their application.

SMPs can be the ideal choice for students who want to conduct research in an academic setting. Just like with other master’s degrees, you are given an opportunity to develop your own research project under the supervision of a primary investigator. SMPs give you enough time and resources to develop skills necessary for scientific research, but keep in mind that these programs are not cheap and require your full attention as any other academic endeavor.

Post-bacc programs are designed with the purpose of helping students close gaps in their applications. Some offer more MCAT prep, some give you the chance to take necessary medical school prerequisites, while others may help you find quality research opportunities. You can find the programs that fit your needs via this AAMC directory. Make sure to check the programs’ websites if research opportunities are available via the post-bacc or related facilities.


1. Do I need research experience to get into medical school?

While many MD and DO schools do not have strict research requirements, you should strive to participate in quality research experiences to be a competitive candidate. The skills you acquire via research are essential for medical school and the practice of medicine in general.

2. Why is research experience valuable to premeds?

Research helps students improve critical thinking skills, analytical skills, communication skills, and other important abilities. It demonstrates your curiosity, dedication, and sense of responsibility.

3. Is research experience more important than clinical hours or shadowing?

All three types of experience are important in their own way for premeds. Research activities build important skill sets, and certain medical programs may value research experience more than shadowing hours.

4. Should my research for medical school be in science disciplines?

Not necessarily. If you would like to experience scientific research, participate in lab-based research. However, you can also participate in social science or humanities research projects.

5. How much research experience do I need to get into medical school?

There is no set requirement for the number of research credits. Most importantly, your research activity should be of high quality and dedicated time commitment.

6. How can I find premed research opportunities?

Start by searching for opportunities in your own school. You can also reach out to other local colleges and universities, medical facilities, and your premed peers. You can also search for summer research opportunities and international programs.

7. Should I take a gap year to get research experience?

You can choose to take a gap year before medical school if you want to give yourself enough time to participate in a quality research experience. During your gap year, you can focus on bolstering your application with extracurriculars like research and clinical hours and prepare your medical school application.

8. I already graduated from college. Are there ways I can get premed research experience?

Non-traditional applicants can use all of the same methods we’ve outlined to find research opportunities. If you have been out of school for a long time, you might consider enrolling in an SMP or a post-baccalaureate program to gain all the necessary premed experiences.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting 

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