Hello, my name is Madeline and I am a D4 at Case Western Reserve School of Dental
Medicine. I enjoyed 4 years of my undergraduate career at the University of Alabama. A
significant amount of my time in college was devoted to a neuroscience and genetics lab. It was a wonderful way to supplement my biology degree and overall character. I would like to share some avenues for securing a research position, as well as my story as an undergraduate researcher.
How to Find Research Opportunities as a Pre-Dental Student
Step 1: Discovering Your Interest
Seeking out fulfilling research positions is a difficult task, but not impossible.
There are a few questions that you need to answer in order to find the perfect fit.
What area of interest do you have? The more interested you are in a specific area, the more likely you will enjoy working on your projects.
I personally enjoyed working under a microscope as well as genetics. My favorite project I worked on investigated the genetic background of Alzheimer’s disease. I spent many hours and even most of my summer in the lab working under a microscope each year during my undergraduate career. I loved it, I had a strong passion for what I was doing every day.
This is a very important component of your career in research. Once you have found a passion for a specific topic, it is time to find an opportunity.
Step 2: Finding a Professor
The second step to finding pre-dental research opportunities is to find a professor or another staff member at your college, that will provide an environment where you can explore your passion.
Look into different projects that they have worked on in their specific lab. Try to read some of their papers, even if you do not understand some of the language used in these publications.
This is an impressive first step and will make you stand out!
The best way to approach these professors is to have a conversation in person. Maybe they are your biology professor and you have access to their office hours. Walking into their office with confidence while showing them you have a genuine passion for their area of research is very impressive.
But What if I can't Find a Research Opportunity?
There are times when research opportunities are limited for certain labs or projects.
Professors and lab leaders may not be looking for any undergraduate researchers at that time, and that is okay. A good way to follow up is by asking to shadow someone in their lab. This shows persistence and also gives you an opportunity to observe the projects that are investigated.
Eventually, undergraduate researchers will graduate and there will be more space available. If you continue to demonstrate your perseverance and passion for their research, then you may have the opportunity to fill those vacant spots. If the leader of the lab ultimately decides to not bring you on their team, then at least you can walk away with new experience and knowledge.
You will also likely have a strong relationship with the professor, which can allow for a more tailored letter of recommendation. Make yourself available to those who can give you an opportunity to do what you love.
Why Should I Do Research as a Pre-Dental Student?
Always be willing to put yourself out there and jump out of your comfort zone.
Research can be very taxing and usually eats up a lot of free time. Working on projects will teach you discipline and will train you for the work you will do in dental school. Time management, patience, and perseverance along with many other necessary qualities for success in dental school are learned through working in research during your undergraduate career.
While it is a massive resume booster, a research opportunity is so much more.
You can gain friendships, build strong relationships with mentors and you can even become a mentor yourself. Becoming a familiar face and showing your true passion will allow you to become an excellent researcher.
My Research Experience as a Pre-Dent
My research journey was complicated, and it molded me in so many important ways.
At first, I had an interest in a cancer lab that was run by a biology professor at my school. I was acquainted with many people that worked in his lab. I became a familiar face and attended the lectures and dissertations that were given by his graduate researchers. I absorbed as much information about his projects as I possibly could.
I finally had the courage to speak to him and inquire about an undergraduate researching position. We spoke about his passions and how my interests would support his research. He offered me a position and before I knew it, my face was glued to a microscope every day.
I was in love with it!
Unfortunately, my path took an unexpected turn.
My professor suddenly passed, and I no longer had a lab to call home. Next door to my lab was a husband and wife that ran their own neuroscience lab, called the Wormshack. My professor worked closely with this couple and they were actually long-time friends.
This couple saw something in me.
They appreciated how I was always around, even if I had finished all my work for the day. They adopted me into their lab soon after my professor's passing, something I never applied for which shocked me.
My dedication to my previous lab instilled trust in other professors around me. I flourished in the Wormshack. I worked on Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and epilepsy research, I even published multiple times in a span of 2 and half years. This journey taught me a very important lesson:
You never know when others are paying attention to you, and they may change your life.