Research is one of those things that everyone is aware of and wants to get involved in without really knowing what it entails. Here, I will explain a little bit about the types of research that premedical students commonly pursue and what each entails.
What exactly is research? Well, in simple terms, research is a systematic approach to studying a specific question of interest. This question can seek descriptive answers in the form of causal relationships, quantitative data and hard numbers, conclusions based on observational studies or a literature review, just to name a few possible outcomes. In my experience, most premedical students either do basic science research which includes wet lab and bench research or they participate in clinical research. Some may choose to pursue a more academic approach to research in the form of literature reviews.
Literature reviews are extremely comprehensive summaries of previous research done on the subject of interest. It consists of going through scholarly journal articles, books, and other sources to consolidate and objectively evaluate research that has already been done so that future research can be appropriately curated to address or clarify topics that may not have been covered previously. Literature reviews are a great way to gain valuable skills in reading complex research articles and transforming the content into digestible summaries, while at the same time gaining a background in your topic of interest. They are great ways to get involved in research in high school, especially if you are too young to be allowed in labs or feel as though you do not have enough experience yet.
Basic science research is the stepping stone towards studying more advanced applications. This umbrella of research provides the basic foundation for scientific knowledge. Scientists usually study the building blocks of life such as cells, proteins, and DNA to identify structures and how they work in our bodies. This type of research is what most people think of when they hear research: formulating a question, developing a procedural method, analyzing the data, and drawing conclusions. Oftentimes, basic science research takes years to produce tangible data, but without it we wouldn’t know how our DNA is replicated or how diseases arise and progress in our bodies. Basic science research often involves the use of model organisms to study particular molecules, enzymes, and pathways in our bodies. Getting involved in this type of research will allow you to learn a variety of lab techniques, common procedures, and handle a variety of chemicals and organisms.
Clinical research is a way to study how new medications, treatments, and diagnostic techniques fare in actual patients. Usually, these are administered to patients in controlled clinical trials so that progress can be monitored and measured, leading to a written evaluation of the effectiveness of the specific treatment or medication and its safety measures. Clinical research is a great way to see the foundations laid by basic science research applied to real-life situations. Through this route, you will learn how to craft clinical research questions, design controlled protocols, consolidate and analyze large sets of data using a variety of different softwares, and draw meaningful conclusions.
There is a third common type of research known as translational research, which acts as the perfect bridge between basic science and clinical research. The goal of translational research is to use the knowledge from basic science and clinical trials to develop treatments and interventions that improve health outcomes in hospitals and clinics. In other words, this branch of research is a way to translate the concepts of basic science to tangible solutions to healthcare needs in the form of treatments, therapies, and procedures. If you are more interested in research that produces results more readily applicable to improving patient care, then this could be the path for you.
As you can see, there is so much more to scientific research than what you may stereotypically think of. Explore the types that interest you and pursue those opportunities relentlessly.