Undergraduate Research Opportunities on Campus
by Mera Kachgal, PhD, LP
This article was written by Dr. Mera Kachgal, who works with students interested in clinical research.
Why conduct undergraduate research?
As a pre-health student, you may be wondering, "Why should I get involved in undergraduate research? I already have enough to do with my classes, labs, volunteering, work commitments and exam preparation."
My response to that question is that there are many reasons to get involved with undergraduate research - and not only to prepare for a PhD or research-focused career.
1) The University's status as a major research institution means that there are opportunities to learn about and observe how health research improves patient outcomes or leads to new interventions/treatments. Further, by participating in undergraduate research, you are able to network with faculty and you may even find a research assistant (RA) job. For an overview of the health research at the University, visit: http://www.ahc.umn.edu/research/
2) Conducting research demonstrates to others your initiative, ability to stay on task, and persistence in dealing with setbacks. You can also develop these types of skills: analytical thinking, creativity, communication, writing, and presentation.
3) Evidence-based practice (EBP - http://hsl.lib.umn.edu/learn/ebp/) is becoming the norm. By actively participating in an undergraduate research project, you can move along to more advanced projects in graduate/professional school and develop your skills eventually in EBP.
4) You may develop a passion for research - either in the general process or in a specialized area - and decide to pursue a research-oriented degree (i.e. M.S. or Ph.D.) or become involved in clinical research (described below) while you are in a health professional program.
What types of research projects are there?
Health sciences research can be classified as basic, clinical, or translational in nature. Basic research is conducted via laboratory experiments and studies. In contrast, clinical and translational research includes humans. Clinical research involves the use of clinical trials to assess the safety of new drugs and devices. Translational research encompasses the translation of laboratory results to clinical trials or to new treatments.
Many students conduct basic research through their lab courses or directed research; due to the strict regulations and protocols involved in research with humans, it is much more challenging for students to become involved in clinical/translational research. If you are interested in learning more about clinical research, the Health Careers Center offers a fall semester course called AHS 2300: Orientation to Clinical Research. This is a small seminar course that includes a short-term field placement at a clinical research center. Students also write a UROP proposal as part of the class.
Another course is PubH 3315: Clinical Research: From Lab to Bedside to Populations.
Do I need any training to conduct or participate in research?
Statistics and research methods courses are beneficial but you can still participate in many projects even if you have not yet taken these courses. Any project involving human subjects requires approval from the University's Institutional Review Board (IRB). If you are designing an independent project, consult with your faculty mentor or supervisor to find out if you can be added to his/her IRB application or if you need to submit your own proposal directly to the IRB. Research with animals must be approved by the IACUC. If you are involved in a clinical research study, you must receive HIPAA and CITI research training before starting your work.
Does my research experience have to be related to health?
Research experiences in other disciplines such as the social sciences or humanities are certainly valuable, and they will add to your overall record. However, as a pre-health student, you should try to become involved in research that involves a health care component. This research does not necessarily need to be in the lab; you could be conducting a focus group or interviewing individuals in the community to examine health care disparities, for example.
How do I get started?
A good first step is to think about health care topics you find interesting. You should also review the departments within the Academic Health Center to learn about faculty research interests. If you have already met a researcher and found their work to be of interest, request a time to meet and ask if there are any volunteer opportunities or jobs available. Talk to your professors and teaching assistants and also consult with the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) coordinator, Vicky Munro, PhD.
Can I receive funding for my research?
UROP awards grants twice a year to full- time, undergraduate students. Applications are due typically in early October and March.
GoldPass lists many paid research assistant positions in lab or other settings.
Programs at the University:
Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP)
Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Program
Health Research at the University:
Clinical and Translational Science Institute Profiles
U of M Research in the Colleges
Researching the Literature:
Research Quick Start