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Is Undergraduate Research a lot of work?

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by ytt9953, Jul 30, 2015.

  1. ytt9953

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    Hi Everyone,
    Is undergraduate research very time consuming or difficult? How much time do u typically have to commit every week? I was thinking about doing research this upcoming school year but im a little worried that it might affect my grades if its really time consuming or difficult. (I want to raise my gpa alot this year) It would be my first time doing research so i am not at all familiar with research & how it works.
    i have tried googling and trying to find answers to my questions but i can't seem to find anything.
    Thanks guys! would appreciate any help & feedback
     
  2. CaliforniaDreamer

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    I would ask the professor about the time commitment, it will differ widely. Have an idea of how many hours you will be able to give weekly.
     
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  3. Meeehai

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    Most people you will work under will let you set your own hours, but you should dedicate enough time for the research to be meaningful. ie. you want to eventually be involved in publications as opposed to having a minimal role where you just come in for a few hours a week and do simple tasks.
     
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  4. Holmwood

    Holmwood WOW
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    It depends on the nature of work.

    Running gels may have you working until midnight. Running experiments with rats? Maybe couple hours a week.

    You're going to work with others to share the workload likely, so you can make it work so long as your schedule isn't overloaded.
     
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  5. Shirafune

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    At my school (bench work), 10 hours/wk is the lowest I've seen during the school year. I would say 15 hours/wk is a typical lab commitment here. 20+ hours/wk is on the high end. This is if you're working for a graduate student or a post-doc. Keep in mind that these hours usually fall within the normal business day, since you will likely require training and supervision for awhile.

    In my experience, starting undergraduate research right out of freshman year was extremely difficult because I did not have the coursework to help out. That being said, I found that if I studied/worked hard in lab, it would translate to easier upper-division coursework. If you are a freshman/sophomore, I would recommend starting during the summer or a light term so you're not overwhelmed. If you are a junior/senior, then start whenever you feel like it.
     
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  6. ChrisMack390

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    My undergrad prof asked for ~10 hours per week. Sometimes I ended up there more and sometimes less.
     
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  7. davisfenos

    davisfenos Prince Caspian
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    My undergrad supervisor also asked for 10 hours a week minimum, but in his words "it'll probably be every waking hour that you're at school and not in a class or lab, if you want to get anything done".

    And yeah, lots of work. More work than a class, and certainly more of a time investment.
     
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  8. md-2020

    md-2020 The Immaculate Catch
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    If you want any pubs/posters/presentations, then yes.
     
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  9. Holmwood

    Holmwood WOW
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    You're going to end up putting in more time after lab hours looking at data/lit anyway.

    Look, if you need to temporarily boost your GPA than invest all your time in that. For now, just try and get into the lab and join their journal club or something. That way when you're ready to tack on more research + extracurriculars, you can schedule your coursework around to meet those obligations.
     
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  10. ytt9953

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    Thanks guys!
    I know this may be a stupid question,but what is the difference between working in a lab and doing research? Are those essentially the same things ? I've heard it both ways but now I'm a little confused
    Thanks
     
  11. mimelim

    mimelim Vascular Surgery
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    "Doing research" - any field, solve new or existing problems, hypothesis testing, developing new theories

    "Working in a lab" - Doing research in a lab, washing beakers in a lab, etc.

    I worked ~35-40 hrs/week during the school year and 70-80 hrs/week during the summer during undergrad. I got what I wanted and needed out of it. A lot of finding a good lab is about finding good mentors in subject matter that you are interested in. It is easy to work long and hard if you are engaged and have stuff to do.
     
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  12. Holmwood

    Holmwood WOW
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    You get out what you put into it.
    If you're running gels, you're just running gels. If you talk to the PI and project leader, find out about the purpose of the study, the rationale for the experimental design, and learn about the statistics..... you know, you're learning research methodology. Maybe if you figure out how to mine more useful results out of the raw data you're provided, they may put you higher up in the authorship. But what's more important than that is understanding and engaging in the whole research process. Don't expect people to carry you through that. Initiative is what separates students washing beakers to those running their own experiments.

    Whatever you accomplish, you best bet that when schools ask you about your research experience, you better know what your research was about.
     
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  13. ytt9953

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    Thanks for all the help guys I understand now :)
     
  14. ytt9953

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    Do you guys know if it would look bad to medical school if I did research but I didn't get authorship? I am going into my junior year and I would love to apply to medical school summer before senior year, but I would probably continue research in this lab for jr and sr year. But I don't think I'll get published in time .
    In other words will it look bad if I only have lab experience if I have no publication ? Or would any type of experience be good?
    Sorry for all the questions, research is new to me and I don't understand the process too much
    Thanks
     
  15. md-2020

    md-2020 The Immaculate Catch
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    Try to have atleast a poster/presentation.

    But none won't look "bad" per se, just not helpful. Top and upper tiers (research powerhouses) also generally want pubs+posters.
     
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  16. Vespasian

    Vespasian "Vae, puto deus fio!"
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    I worked in a cardiovascular research lab- started out about 8 hours a week running participants, then it morphed into ~20 hours a week in the lab and about 4-5 hours from home. Some weeks much more (data analysis for a grad student's dissertation). I ended up getting some co-author credits and some poster presentations. Like most things in life you usually get out what you put in.
     
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  17. MyNameWasUsed

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    I did biochemistry research in undergrad. I worked around 8 hours a week while my molecular biology peers were working like 20+
     
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  18. ytt9953

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    Thanks!
     
  19. mandym00

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    I'll tell you a little about my experience so you can get an idea.
    I'm working in a microbiology lab right now as an undergrad. My PI (professor who runs the lab) expects ~10 hours/week from myself. But my PI is rarely in the lab, I actually work with a PhD student. I help him out with various things: making media, cleaning test tubes, inoculating media, etc. But I also have gotten to learn a lot of techniques and performed them by myself such as PCR, plasmid extraction, use of nanodrop machine etc... I've been working in the lab for the past 4 months but my PI said that in the fall semester he will (hopefully) give me a small project of my own to work on. It really depends on each lab though what your PI will expect from you. They will definitely let you know this upfront though. I think research is a great learning opportunity, but its not necessary to get into medical school. I'm doing research because I need to write a thesis in order to earn my Honors degree.
     
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  20. ytt9953

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    this was really helpful thanks :)
     
  21. ytt9953

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    This might be a dumb question but, when people say that they work on their own research project, does the student usually come up with the project idea or does the PI give u the idea?
     
  22. Shirafune

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    Depends on the PI, but more often than not, the PI will provide the initial hypotheses to test. After some preliminary results, you may pitch your own research trajectories.
     
  23. Joeshie

    Joeshie Looking for Pidgeys
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    I strongly disagree with your sentiments regarding animal experiments. Having done animal research for all four years of my undergraduate career, one thing that doesn't wait for you is the life of another. Gels can be run at any point in the day typically. When you have a month long animal experiment that requires bi-daily injections of drug candidates, you truly understand just how long animal work takes. Yes running gels can take you to midnight--while you wait on your computer on SDN as the machine does all the "gel running" for you.

    Other animal examples:
    Measuring changes in weight of the animal or thickness of joints on a daily basis for 40+ mice experiments: Easily over 10 hours a week
    Harvesting ex vivo cells (e.g. neutrophils): Injection of stimulant = Wait 4 to 16 hours. Harvest cells and use before they undergo apoptosis: Easily surpasses 8 hours depending on the experiment
    Harvesting biological samples (e.g. spleens, liver, serum) at the end of your experiment: Can be 4-5 hours of continuous work.
     
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  24. Shirafune

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    I don't think Holmwood was suggesting mice work requires less time than yeast or bacterial bench work. OP likely isn't going to be harvesting primary cells and then using them for experiments. OP isn't going to have an independent project, unless the PI really has that much faith in him/her. If OP is just maintaining or genotyping mice lines, then it would be less of a commitment. OP's mentor will split up the work amongst other undergrads as well. Perhaps what Holmwood was getting at is that blots are multi-day processes that make you come in at different times. Again, it depends on the nature of the work.

    Point being, OP's mentor will allot an appropriate amount of work based on OP's schedule. OP won't responsibly accept a position that requires him/her to work during class hours, and hopefully, nor will he be asked to do so.

    To OP, I would initially avoid animal model work. You are likely going to get marginal academic growth relative to other model organisms, simply because it takes too much time. I think your time would be better spent working in labs that use bacteria, yeast, flies, nematodes or even plants if your major is molecular biology related (biochem, cell bio, genetics, etc). If you are interested in physiology, I would look into cell culture work--cells harvested from their native environment and cultured on plastic. Animal work is for in vivo verification of in vitro work, having a more relevant model as far as biomedical applications are concerned, or if your hypothesis is not easily testable in vitro.

    Again, I wouldn't recommend animal work over other systems of study, though I am sure Joeshie can highlight aspects which may appeal to you OP.
     
  25. timeflies

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    In my experiences, if you want your work to be meaningful, then it should be a lot of work.

    I've been in 2 labs at my undergrad.

    The first was small and intimate, with a PI mentor in the truest sense. In this setting, it's easy to demonstrate your abilities and be entrusted with an independent project early on. There's constant and immediate feedback and a very special opportunity to develop your skills as a researcher. Your project will be all your own, you'll grow intellectually through your commitment to developing the project through scouring the literature for related work and possible directions. But this will take work. It will be time-consuming. You'll occasionally have to give up nights and/or weekends. But you will have the freedom to dictate the timing and organization of your experiments. Your schedule will be full, but it will be yours to manage on your own.

    My current lab is large, composed of distinct project teams, involves streamlined flow of responsibilities. The PI is never not busy. In this setting, it will take something tremendous to be recognized for your abilities and given a truly independent role, especially if there are several tiers of hierarchy (post-docs, PhD students, technicians, etc). On the other hand, you will likely not be required to place much commitment toward the lab work. Simple DNA isolation, genotyping PCRs, and changing of media will require <10 hours a week at most. However, it will most likely be very regulated scheduling-wise. As in, someone will need you to be there on very specific days of the week at very specific times. In my opinion, less work, less meaningful, and less independence. But you will get your feet wet.

    My answer to your initial question: It depends. It can be. It doesn't have to be.
    My advice: Think about what you want from this experience. Find the appropriate lab for you.
     
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  26. Holmwood

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    It depends on the experimental design, what you're measuring, and the size of your lab. Don't make generalizations. . . not all animal research is time-intensive and not all wet lab work is computerized (depends on the available equipment you have). That's why I used the word "may" and "maybe".

    ---
    Edit: As @timeflies says, a small lab may give you a lot of autonomy and support, but you might have to do more of the work. I work in a small behavioral neuro lab. While the PI was great and gave me couple first authorships, our equipment (or lack thereof) had us resort to the 1960s way of measuring animal behavior... I pulled around 50 hours a week measuring rats running back and forth, back and forth, back and forth... So a small lab = less funding = more work on your part. Maybe. That's why it's important to talk with the PI extensively before committing.
     
    #26 Holmwood, Aug 1, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2015
  27. Joeshie

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    You weren't using "may" and "maybe" as a means to say that both types of experiments were widely variable. You were using them in an overall message contrasting the amount of time needed by both types respectively. Your contrast was that running gels, as a wet lab type of experiment, would take longer than animal work. I am merely providing my experiences to say that this is not necessarily the case and to inform the OP that this isn't as simple as one experiment requires less time than another.

    In any case, what @timeflies provides is likely a better measure of what the OP should consider rather than the type of experiment.
     
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  28. Holmwood

    Holmwood WOW
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    You're just purposefully misunderstanding just to have an excuse to be condescending. But maybe not.
     
  29. timeflies

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    @Joeshie @Holmwood

    I think the misunderstanding is in that the example is somewhat poorly constructed.
    Clearly the "nature" of the work is what is being examined here.

    The "long hours" example is bench-side in "nature"
    The "short hours" example is animal work in "nature"

    Thus is seems that the contrast here is between bench-side vs. animal work since you pointed out that commitment is dependent on the "nature" of experiments.
     
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  30. Shirafune

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    I didn't interpret this as a bench-side vs. animal work comparison. It was just two broad examples of work OP might be asked to do. More or less, the nature of the work is in reference to a mini-project OP might be in charge of, one that might be a single figure in a paper. Apart from collecting tissue samples, Joeshie's examples were well beyond OP's scope. It would be very difficult, if even possible, to fit such hours during normal work hours such that inexperienced OP will still be supervised.

    As evident in this thread, most students dedicate 10 - 15 hrs/week to research during the academic year. No reason to expect OP to dedicate 30 hrs/week to research.
     
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  31. Holmwood

    Holmwood WOW
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    It's okay. @Joeshie wanted to pokebattle because I'm water-type.
     
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  32. Joeshie

    Joeshie Looking for Pidgeys
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    [​IMG]
    We should be friends, like in this artwork. No need for me to use my super-effective grass attacks.
     
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  33. Shirafune

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    Don't you have peck though? ;)
     
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  34. ruedjgtc

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    As someone already correctly said at the beginning. The hour commitment will vary by lab, so you need to talk with the PI (or the co-PI) or whoever is in charge of you. It's very important to get this straight at the beginning, few things or worse than a misunderstanding in how much you're expected to commit. Be straight forward with your other commitments, and they'll be better abled to make a schedule that fits you. If you can't find a lab that is willing to fit into your schedule (and you give a reasonable schedule), then it's probably the wrong lab for you at that time.

    Don't over-commit (spinning your wheels isn't necessarily working hard) and don't under-commit.
     
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  35. mandym00

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    Others have already said this but... typically the PI will assign you a project and tell you exactly what they want expect. Since I work with a PhD student I can always ask him questions and such, so if you are ever unsure of how to do something its okay. I would assume you would be in some similar situation with a mentor that you can ask questions to. They don't expect you know everything already, that's why you're there! I find 10 hours a week very doable with classes, and at the time I was working two part-time jobs as well, and still had time to research. My PI was only of my microbiology professors, so he understands that academics comes first.
     

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