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Volunteer research -- are they asking too much from me?

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by hitchhiker3, May 15, 2014.

  1. hitchhiker3


    May 15, 2014
    Hi guys,

    So I just finished my sophomore year of college and I'm back home. I emailed a few of my home institutions in order to find a research position for the summer, and I explicitly stated that I was going to be volunteering because I didn't think they were going to pay me as I don't have any prior wet lab experience. Anyway, I found a position at a hospital but the PI wants me to be at the lab 8 hours a day for M-F. At first, I didn't hesitate to say yes, but now that I think of it, that's a **** load of time for unpaid work. What do you guys think? Should I politely request that I volunteer for a fewer amount of hours?

    Thanks y'all.
    Last edited: May 15, 2014
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  3. masaraksh

    masaraksh 5+ Year Member

    Sep 11, 2011
    Good luck getting a lot done in a 'wet lab' with a small time commitment. Non-wet-lab research will often be much more bank for your buck in terms of hours and flexibility per publication.
  4. MrTaco92

    MrTaco92 2+ Year Member

    Oct 9, 2013
    Thats an insane commitment for an unpaid gig. You should ask for fewer hours or find another PI.
  5. chillaxbro

    chillaxbro 5+ Year Member

    Jun 11, 2012
    No it's not too much to ask for
    There are plenty of people who do this and there will be plenty of people willing to take your place
  6. lnvictus

    lnvictus 2+ Year Member

    Mar 24, 2014
    Take it only if you really have no other choice.

    40 hours of unpaid research is robbery against you, especially since labs almost always have the resources to pay.

    And since you're going to be there for only a summer there isn't any real benefit to doing research over something else unless you miraculously get published in that extremely short time period.
    bambam92 and Goro like this.
  7. Catalystik

    Catalystik Providing herd protection Physician Faculty SDN Advisor Classifieds Approved 10+ Year Member

    Sep 4, 2006
    Inside the tesseract
    If you were taking a summer research "course" at the university, you might have to pay a few thousand in tuition for the privilege of participating (and having it show up on your transcript). For this situation, you just have to put in the time.
    DrCharlemagne and Planes2Doc like this.
  8. MaybeDr

    MaybeDr 2+ Year Member

    Apr 7, 2014
    Yeah that's not too much of a commitment. I'm currently doing 20 hours a week in a chemistry lab and that honestly not enough to get something done in a timely manner. The fact is if you were trained already the time commitment would be reduced. They have to train you to do a bunch of different things. On top of that they need to be done well. They are investing in you. Think about how much 20 hours would do for a trained staff member if they hadn't spent time training you.

    You're going to be taking time away from seasoned staff. This is their way of compensating for that imo. I feel you though. 20 hours is way to much to be spending in a lab(not to mention the time I spend out of lab on it) for 3 credits. Wet lab will be useful to get other research positions, so take advantage of that.
  9. Planes2Doc

    Planes2Doc Residency is ruff! Physician 5+ Year Member

    Jul 23, 2012
    The South
    Think about volunteering in a hospital. You become responsible for doing the scut work that techs and nurses don't want to do. You're treated like garbage. Why would anyone subject themselves to it? So they can get into medical school.

    The same thing with research. It's not needed for every medical school, but it's still an important box to check off the checklist. A lot of other pre-meds would likely jump to do this if you don't. Do it because you want to get into medical school, that's the ultimate goal. Also remember, any money that you make at this point is pocket change compared to the earnings you'd make as a physician. If you feel that it will dramatically boost your application, then by all means do it. This isn't the time to be counting pennies.

    Like they say, don't be penny wise pound foolish.
  10. hoihaie

    hoihaie Banned Banned

    Mar 6, 2014
    No it's not too much. It's summer and you dont have classes. all the stdent volunteer in my lab work full time during summer. You cant accomplish stuff if you only put in 2 or 3 hours a day.
  11. lmn

    lmn 2+ Year Member

    Dec 18, 2013
    Depends on the type of work you will be doing, but regardless it will really help you garner the experience and references necessary to get involved in further research/jobs down the line. Sure it's possible that you could find something equivalent that's actually paid, but it's up to you if you want to risk losing the opportunity and possibly future opportunities.
  12. Person0715

    Person0715 Socially awkward 2+ Year Member

    May 12, 2011
    Gotō Islands
    Despite how coveted research experience is, 40 hours a week of unpaid work is still a huge time commitment. It's summer! It's important to leave some time to relax.
  13. penguinism

    penguinism 5+ Year Member

    Jun 20, 2011
    I wouldn't volunteer for 40 hrs/week, but maybe I was just lucky finding a paid summer position in undergrad. If you think you're gonna love the research then stick with it, but otherwise I would probably do a max of 20 hrs/week unpaid so that I would have time to either 1) find a paid part-time job or 2) have more free time for fun.

    It's a shame you're not staying near your undergrad over the summer, because best-case would be to find a position you could continue long term, therefore not necessitating a huge summer time commitment to accomplish everything before heading back to school. Because you're leaving after x # of weeks, I can understand why he would want 40 hrs/week. Is there any way he would be amenable to giving you a small stipend of like $1000-2000?
  14. mmmcdowe

    mmmcdowe Duke of minimal vowels Moderator Physician Gold Donor Classifieds Approved 7+ Year Member

    Sep 12, 2008
    To defend labs, many do not have funding to support the huge volume of students who are looking for summer projects (my past lab often let up to 30 undergrad students come work and provided pizza/lectures but no pay). Second, employing people for 10 weeks is kind of an administrative pain unless there is a specific academic program that is set up in advance. Third, you are probably less skilled/able to work than the full time clinical coordinators they could hire for the money you desire and its going to take time for you to even get up to speed. So if you can find a paying position, jump on it, but no it is not unreasonable to do this for free if you have nothing else going on and you are an untrained student with no past experience with that lab's research.
    DrCharlemagne, lmn and Catalystik like this.
  15. lnvictus

    lnvictus 2+ Year Member

    Mar 24, 2014
    I would agree with the previous posts that this opportunity would be good IF OP carried through the work during the academic year, but if he/she is going to only be there for the summer (as implied by "I emailed a few of my home institutions in order to find a research position for the summer") then the experience isn't really going to be good enough to warrant 40 hours of no pay.

    If the offer given to the OP was at his/her own university then sure by all means take it. In this case, I'm personally not for this idea.
  16. lmn

    lmn 2+ Year Member

    Dec 18, 2013
    ^^exactly, being paid would be great, but how useful are you realistically if you have no prior experience? Unless they really pull someone away from their projects to teach you everything (unlikely), you are likely unable to run any of the experiments, and most likely not very trusted to do anything relatively important as your lack of knowledge or mistake could undermine their entire work. This is why it's preferable as an undergrad to get a position in a school based lab, or work your way up from dishes/cage duty at some schools, because PI's there are generally a lot more receptive to having to teach someone from scratch. At top-notch academic labs in my area, they could easily hire someone with a few years of experience, who already knows most of the techniques, and has a BS degree for not that much more money than what some people want as a stipend, instead as a permanent full-time, meaning they also get a lot more out of their training time and money. So in short, without some type of program making it more worthwhile to the PI, they don't really gain all that much from you compared to the time and risk they take bringing you into the lab.
  17. URHere

    URHere Physician PhD 10+ Year Member

    Nov 20, 2007
    Whether or not 40 hour weeks are reasonable depends on the kind of work you will be doing. If you are going to be doing entirely scut work (washing dishes, making buffers, etc) then yes, it's probably unreasonable. On the other hand, if you've found a lab that is going to let you handle a mini-project during your summer, you really need to put in the time. As someone without experience, you'll require extra hours for training and you'll most likely have to fit them into someone else's busy schedule (which means that you have to be around and available whenever they are).

    If you're worried about the hours, you can always get in touch with the PI and tell him/her that you are concerned that putting in so many unpaid hours will negatively impact your ability to find a paying job. They may offer you a bit of money or otherwise help you find a solution.
    WingedOx likes this.
  18. hitchhiker3


    May 15, 2014
    Thanks for the responses, guys. I guess I underestimated the value of being associated with a lab in my school. My plan was to volunteer in a lab in one of my home institutions and then transition into a lab in my school during the academic year.

    I'll go volunteer for the first week and see how it is. Then, I'll reevaluate my situation from there.
  19. WingedOx

    WingedOx no spoilers. 7+ Year Member

    Nov 16, 2010
    the museum of human misery
    There are also plenty of labs that will pay you for the same work if you look hard enough.
    lnvictus and bambam92 like this.
  20. bambam92

    bambam92 Banned Banned 2+ Year Member

    Nov 26, 2012
    Library Basement
    lol I volunteer in biochem research lab doing peptide topoisomerase inhibitor research during semester (20 hours/week) and the group of five UG's the prof allows to work in her lab are all highly motivated, but we get plenty done in our 20 hours a week in the lab. She doesn't pay us, but we work hard and get to do some interesting stuff. I got a paid internship doing some research my sophomore year; I am talking $3500 for 8 weeks of 30 hours a week roughly. I would look into this route, i.e. paid internship for summer. And then once academic year rolls around try to get into a volunteer research lab for 20 hours a week. During the summer I either will be getting paid or just lounging. (cause I work my ass off during school year). Yes, I volunteer at free clinic all year, including summer, but to give 40 hours a week of unpaid labor your whole summer in a lab is freaking thirsty!!:confused: That PI is taking you for a ride!! I would tell them thanks, but no thanks. :thumbup:And move on. :cool: In conclusion if you're gonna work in the summer at least get paid, and if not just enjoy your summer--cause you will be working for a long, long time if this journey goes as planned. Best of luck.
  21. bambam92

    bambam92 Banned Banned 2+ Year Member

    Nov 26, 2012
    Library Basement
    Can't say I know too many people that would spend their whole summer plugging 40 hours/week into a lab for no compensation. Maybe if you are desperate for research, and or CV is lacking. I only have a year of bench research under my belt, but I would never entertain this "offer" the OP has garnered; I think of it more as highway robbery. But I guess there is an ass for every seat.
  22. kami333

    kami333 10+ Year Member

    Aug 15, 2007
    If it makes you feel any better, I'm going to be putting in 40hrs/wk in research for free as a med student this summer.
  23. lmn

    lmn 2+ Year Member

    Dec 18, 2013
    Yikes, no stipend at all from the lab or through your school even? That's rough
  24. lobo.solo

    lobo.solo 5+ Year Member

    May 4, 2011
    You should have plan your summer better. There are plenty of paid summer research opportunities. I wouldn't do it, but you might have to. Why not try to get involved in a lab during the school year, but have a long term involvement. Long term ECs are favored by adcoms.
  25. ridethecliche

    ridethecliche Meep Meep Meep 5+ Year Member

    Feb 2, 2011
    Tied to a library chair
    Given that you have no experience, I don't think it's unfair. They're essentially going to be training you for free. How much do you pay for a lab course at your institution?

    You will probably cost them more time over the large chunk of the summer till you know what you're doing, if you get there.

    If you had a year or two experience working in a similar lab, then I'd say this was relatively bogus.
  26. rolliespring

    rolliespring Gin no Samurai 5+ Year Member

    Jul 6, 2012
    Depends on what you're doing OP. If you're able to get some meaningful experience to put on your resume, go for it. I was in your shoes last summer, no experience, no whatsoever. Went for a full-time unpaid internship position, got plentiful clinical experience, lots of patient contact, got to interview research subjects etc. Then I used this experience to apply for scholarships and other positions. Think of it as an investment, if it will pay you back in any way, do it. If not, then don't.
  27. bakedbeans18

    bakedbeans18 "Truly misguided, with delusions of grandeur"

    Mar 9, 2014
    I did this for about 2 months. Then, out of the blue, they offered me a paid position. If you have nothing better (see: constructive) to do and are just complaining about not having free time in the summer, sack up.
    chillaxbro likes this.
  28. MrTaco92

    MrTaco92 2+ Year Member

    Oct 9, 2013
    Summer is a great time to make money while out of school. I don't know what your financial situation is like, but if I were in your situation I would find a part-time research gig while working (lifeguarding, pizza delivery, or whatever) part-time. You are being heavily exploited for free labor if you end up going through with volunteer work on a full-time basis. Unpaid internships suck, and I'm sure we've all experience them in one way or another. There will be better opportunities elsewhere.

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