If you’ve gone deep enough on your plans to apply for med school then you’ll already know; showing you’ve done research can be a huge advantage when putting together an application.
But how do you write about research for medical school?
The best way to write about research is to start by outlining the importance of the larger project and then to explain, clearly, what it is you did to help achieve that. Med school admissions want to see understanding and engagement. Not only that you’ve ticked a relevant box.
Writing simply but with adequate detail, is the best way to do that.
As for how best to go about that, that’s what we’ll get into in this article.
- General tips about what to include in your writing
- Common pitfalls
- Why good writing (especially about your research) is important
- Other important things to think about in terms of research
As a med student myself, I understand that writing may not come all that naturally to many aspiring physicians. But it is a crucial skill that can definitely help you look more competitive.
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.
What to include when writing about research
The first big thing to consider when talking about what to include in the activities section of your med school application is the question; “do I even want to include my research experience?”
If you found your research boring, unengaging, unimportant, or simply limited, then it’s probably better to use this section to talk about something else (shadowing, work experience, volunteering, etc).
Space is limited and you don’t want to waste it talking about something uninspiring. It will show through in your writing!
But if you have found your research experience significant and feel it could be an important factor in your application’s success, include it. But be honest. And weigh it up against all your other extracurriculars as unobjectively as you can.
If you do decide to go with it; here are some key pointers to keep in mind:
Write clearly and succinctly
Avoid jargon and assume the reader will have some familiarity with how research works and how it’s done. Be brief on the details and expand more on why it’s important and what you learned from it. Think about how that relevance plays into making you look like a competitive candidate. Outline your role and detail what you contributed.
Clarify any unanswered/unclear factors
Ensure you know exactly what your research project was about and its grander importance. Clear up any doubts with those involved. Keep a running diary (while undertaking research) detailing your activities, their outcomes, and their supposed purpose. Ensure you know it in depth; hypothesis, design, results, and interpretations.
Proofread/get an editor
Get another pair of eyes on what you write about your research. Check for clarity, spelling, and grammar, etc. Judge your writing on the basis of whether it explains what you did, why it was important, and why it’s relevant to your desire to be a doctor. Think about the reader (and the possible interviewer).
Here are the types of questions you should seek to answer:
- What did the research teach you about being part of a team?
- How did you resolve issues and conflicts?
- What did it show you about working with others?
Is it backed up by a research letter of recommendation?
If your letter of recommendation (LOR) is from the research head (or anyone else involved in the project), then make doubly sure the details you’ve written check out. Any mismatch in the facts or details has the potential to look bad.
Finally, Dr. Grey, from Medical School Headquarters, also has a ton of great advice about writing (not just on research) in the video below. Check this out for extra pointers!
Should I only write about research work if it’s been published?
Get it out of your head that your research work has to be published.
As long as you can talk about it in impactful terms, paying close attention to the things outlined above, what you did can make a positive impression.
What to avoid
You don’t have an endless amount of characters to outline what it is you did. Focus only on the key facts. Drop the terminology. Prioritize the importance and the impact.
An overeager tone
Gushy and cliched language only serves to irritate the reader. If you cringe writing it, they’ll cringe reading it. Aim for a professional, concise tone.
If you feel the need to exaggerate the importance of your research, or your level of involvement, then leave it off your application entirely.
Research is not an absolute must for most med schools. Don’t feel insecure because yours seems insignificant. It’ll only come back to bite you (more on this later).
Writing about research for AMCAS: Reddit’s best tips
If my own personal tips above aren’t enough, here’s a round-up of some other top tips as recommended by pre-meds (and the like) on Reddit.
If you can’t get published…
See if in the first manuscript you could get an acknowledgment. If not, just describe the type of work you did and that it was published, but you’re not an authorr/dawitt10
If you select your research as one of your “most meaningful” activities…
I first talked about my role as an assistant, basically explaining what I do and how I contribute to the overall objective of the project. Then, I discussed what I’ve learned from my role and the research process in general and how I can apply it to medicine.r/Silly_Background
If you’re tempted to go heavy on the research experiment’s details…
You do want to focus more on what you learned in the lab and what your specific roles were, more so than describing the entire experiment.r/frannyshi
Leave the jargon out…
It doesn’t matter about the jargon. The physicians and students who read your description know what basic science methods are.r/Ccw07
But still, mention the methods (just not the steps)…
Mention the methods. They [Adcoms] definitely will want to know what you did. Any method that you do in your lab, they have heard of or at least have the capacity to look it up on PubMed. Plus it really details the techniques you know and you can then talk about your research more in interviews.r/Ccw07
Do you write research papers in medical school?
Particular medical schools, like Harvard for example, require their students to put together research papers as part of their medical degree. It’s something you’ll want to verify when selecting which schools to apply to.
The majority of schools, however, don’t make writing research papers a necessity.
Where it can benefit you though, is when it comes to applying for residency (and later fellowships). Having involvement in important research studies during your time as a med student can definitely help in that regard. Especially as it’s easier to make connections, find projects to work on, and make contributions.
So learning to write well, and taking time to do so before med school, can help you later in your educational journey too.
Talking about research in med school interviews
Next to writing effectively about any research project is that of talking about it. Usually, both go together. This is another reason why learning to write about research is doubly important.
Being asked about any research project you detail on your application is very common in med school interviews.
Obviously, the more exciting the project is, the better able you are to talk about it and give insight. But having things put down in writing, helps too. Especially in helping you give precise dates, activities, involvement, and outcomes.
So when you’re talking about research in interviews, make sure you refer to your writing!
Here are some general pointers to keep in mind:
- Familiarize yourself with your writing
- Demonstrate your understanding of the research project
- Detail briefly what your role was (and what you did)
- Be ready to expand that detail
- Avoid any exaggeration
- Be honest
Those last two points, although fairly obvious, are very important. You will get found out quickly if you choose to exaggerate details or refer to false contacts.
Speak slowly and assuredly, but don’t feel the need to insult your interviewer with lies.
Do med schools care about what kind of research you do?
How deeply med schools care about the kind of research you do, is hugely dependent on the school. Because each school has a varying admissions policy and admissions committee (ADCOMS), there’s no universal answer. A general answer is probably something along these lines…
Having any type of research (regardless of the subject) is usually better than none.
Beyond that, there’s possibly some loose order of preference. In order of importance, that could go something like:
- Basic (hard) science research
- Non-health related social science research
- Non-health related research
But don’t be fooled into thinking this is any type of hard rule. Don’t tick a research box just because you feel your med school application needs it. The best type of research project will be the one you’re actually interested in!
This last point is important because interest is likely what will lead you to become more involved in the type of research you do. Thus hitting on each of the major points in the answer to the following question…
Does research look good for medical school?
Research can definitely look good on a medical school application. In helping schools choose one candidate over another (all things being equal), it can become an important differentiator. Especially if the role of that applicant’s research was one of responsibility.
It looks good for the following reasons:
Conducting medical research (or any form of science-based research) helps demonstrate to med schools that you’ve got a strong academic commitment to the field. Participating in research as one of your extracurriculars (in addition to your normal schooling), also shows you’re keen to learn and contribute to other areas of medicine (clinical or non-clinical) too.
Shows Organizational Skills
Taking part in research students requires you to be organized, punctual, and trustworthy. As a member of a project, you’ll have others dependent on you. You’ll also be reliant on others, and show your capability of working in a team, depending on the nature of the research study. Med schools want to see this.
Being able to link an application to research, and possibly list a coordinator or research lead as a contact on your application, shows experience and maturity. Med schools favor candidates who can show long-term experience in real-world settings. While the quality of research may only really matter for top-tier schools, your level of involvement is still key.
I go more into why research looks good (as well as how what counts and how much of it you should aim for) in the following article…
What if you don’t like your research project?
Because of how important writing and speaking about research can be in terms of your med school application, it’s important you try to find a project that you genuinely enjoy working on. Finding that makes everything above all the easier.
If you don’t like your research project, here are a couple of options you could consider:
- Ask for a different project to work on
- Request a different role (i.e. switching from data collection to project management)
- Seek to better understand the research project (engage and ask more questions)
Often that last tip is the first step you’ll want to take. Sometimes simply engaging more with what you’re doing can lead to greater interest.
Besides, you’ll want to do that anyway if you hope on writing (and talking) effectively about what it is you’re doing!
Otherwise, think twice about including it. Another extracurricular might well look better.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.