Please note that this page reflects the opinions of the writers, and that what they "recommend" might not be the best decision for your particular situation. It is highly recommended that you also seek out other testimonies, etc. and make the most informed decision for yourself.

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Research is something UCLA students should take advantage of because this is a top-notch research institution. There are a plethora of fields and types of research, and you should pursue research in whatever interests you, even if that is English or Sociology. Many students mistakenly become involved in basic biology research for the sake of medical schools, instead of discovering the countless fields and opportunities outside of biology research. But, if biology is your cup of tea, then pursue it!

There are three main categories of medical research that UCLA students can readily find opportunities to get involved in. Again, you do NOT need to be involved in biomedical research to be a competitive applicant for medical school!

Basic Research:
When you think about a typical bench research studying molecular players, pathways, and processes, you are most likely thinking about basic research. Basic research scientists study the core building blocks of life — DNA, cells, proteins, molecules, etc. — to answer fundamental questions about their structures and how they work.

Clinical Research:
Clinical research explores whether new treatments, interventions, and diagnostic techniques are safe and effective in patients. Clinical research, as the name implies, typically takes place in the clinic and may involve patient interaction.

Translational Research:
Translational research ranges from developing therapeutics from basic research knowledge to validating them to provide robust evidence for potential use in humans. Simply put, translational research is the bridge between basic and clinical research and it is how we move from bench to bedside.

There are plenty of resources on how to get involved in research from the Undergraduate Research Center and the Transfer Student Center, including workshops and mentorship programs that help you through the process. The typical advice is to email PIs on campus or ask your professors, but I (Holly) will cover a couple unorthodox ways to get into good labs.

  1. Check out the profiles (top right corner) of accomplished undergraduate researchers
    • Not all labs are created equal. Some labs have better mentorship and more opportunities than others, but it is often difficult to gauge without any guidance. So, if you start with a good track record, you have a higher likelihood of continuing to receive great mentorship and opportunities.
  2. Attend undergraduate research poster sessions
    • Seniors who present are either leaving or staying in the lab with a higher position. In both cases, you can form a relationship with the seniors whose research you are interested in, and ask if you can join their lab. If you show genuine interest and dedication, those who are leaving should be more than happy to take you. Conversely, the seniors who are staying should be happy to train you if their labs have space for more students.
  3. Office Hours - professors and TAs
    • If you’re taking an upper division class and you find yourself really enjoying the topic, ask your professor or TAs if it would be possible for you to contribute as an undergraduate research assistant. TAs are usually very welcoming!

This minor matches students with the research they are interested in. The application for the minor opens around Week 6 of each quarter, and the matching process takes place during the following quarter. Therefore, if you apply in Fall, you most likely will not begin research until Spring, which is definitely not too late. However, if you want a longer and more substantial research experience, then you may want to apply to labs as soon as you can.

Most of us are happy to get to work in a lab, but some extra money can make the experience more pleasant and can reduce your workload if you have to work a part-time job. Once you are in a lab, definitely check out the Undergraduate Research Center website for all the scholarship opportunities. I (Holly) would make a list of all the scholarships you are interested in and eligible for in a table, along with the list of application deadlines, and apply to them as soon as you can. There are also specific research programs for underrepresented minorities, so please check those out if you qualify.

Something that many undergraduate students are not aware of is the funding UCLA allocates funds for students to attend academic conferences. Yes, that is right. You do not have to present your research to attend conferences. You do not even need to be in a lab. You can find a national or regional conference you feel would help advance your academic realm, and apply for the Travel Grant Mini Fund to help fund your travel and lodging costs.

If you do have research to present, you can also (on top of the $500 from TGMF) apply to the UCLA URC-Sciences Travel Grants, which allocate up to $300 to cover your conference registration, airfare, and lodging costs.

Conferences are a great way for you to see the big picture research forest when you are so focused on the minutiae experiment trees.

A big part of research is scientific writing: if you are getting SRP 198/199 credit for your research, you will need to write up a report at the end of each quarter detailing what you did and discussing your findings. Scientific writing can seem daunting at first, there are a lot of formalities and guidelines you need to follow, but once you get the hang of it, it is a walk in the park, we promise! UCLA has resources for you to develop these skills! The Undergraduate Writing CenterUndergraduate Research Center, as well as the Library have resources to help you with scientific writing, so make sure to reach out to them early on and develop these skills!

Given our accelerated timeline as transfer students, we sometimes feel as though we need to get involved with activities such as research from the first day we get to UCLA. Fear not, when it comes to research, it is never too late to get involved, especially if you’re planning to take a gap year or more.

Getting into a research lab Fall quarter of your Junior year is very early, and in fact I (Charbel) would probably not recommend it. The transition from community college and its semester system to UCLA and its quarter system is not easy, so it’s totally okay to dedicate your first quarter towards navigating this transition, settling down in your new environment, and making friends!

If you’re sure about wanting to be involved in research, winter break of your junior year is a good time to start identifying labs you’re interested in, and emailing them about your interest in their particular projects and why you would be a good fit. Below, we share some good email templates for how to reach out to a Principal Investigator (a PI is the most senior researcher who runs the lab). Joining a lab during winter quarter is good because it gives you enough time to explore the lab dynamic and whether it is a right fit for you: each lab is unique, and no one lab is objectively better than another, rather it is about finding the right fit for you. Do you like to work independently? Or do you prefer working under someone’s wings? Do you like mentorship and guidance? Or do you prefer autonomy? Do you like a laid back and flexible lab? Or do you prefer a lab where you have more responsibility? The answers to these questions are unique to each person, and they will dictate which type of lab and PI is the right fit for you.

If you join a lab and you feel early on that it is not the right for you, do not feel obliged to stay in that lab for the rest of your time at UCLA. Meet with your lab mentor and respectfully make your feelings known: you can either work on solutions, or transition out of the lab. For example, after accepting a research position in a basic research lab, it became clear to me early on that basic research is not an avenue I am interested in long term. I sought a clinical research lab and got a position there, and informed my PI about how I felt, and he was very understanding and supportive of my decision. I finished my duties and commitments in my basic research lab, and eventually transitioned to the clinical research lab full-time.

If you are staying in Westwood during the summer between Junior and Senior year, this is a great time to get started in your research journey if you have not done yet so! Most undergraduates are usually not available during the summer, so your lab mentor will have plenty of time to mentor you and get you settled.

Alternatively, gap years are a great time to get research experience, and it is much more likely to get a paid research position. If that is a path you are interested in, check out the NIH post baccalaureate research program, which provides a full-time, paid research position at an NIH-funded lab with a commitment of 1 to 2 years.