As an undergrad, one of the reasons you devoted so much time to a research experience was to earn an epic letter of recommendation–one that speaks to your strengths, resilience, character, self-reliance, cultural competencies, ability to solve problems, and contribute to a group effort. This letter will be a comprehensive endorsement of your medical school application complete with specific examples that influenced your PI’s opinion. This one letter has the potential to outweigh all other letters from a professor whose class you attended, or from someone who oversaw a volunteer program you participated in for a semester.
For most researchers, working in the lab over a holiday break is somewhat different from working in the lab during the rest of the year. For example, if an experiment has flexibly, it can be started or stopped when it’s convenient for the researcher instead of planned around seminars, classes, and campus parking issues. In addition, some researchers take a vacation, adopt unconventional work hours, or hide in their office to work on a manuscript and only visit the lab to search for inspiration, a snack, or a temporary distraction.
I regularly direct several undergrad projects at the same time, work with other members of my lab team, and pursue my own research projects. And even though I enjoy mentoring my students, the researcher in me wants to take full advantage of holiday breaks. For me, a holiday break is an opportunity to set my work schedule as I please or conquer a particularly difficult experiment without being interrupted much. Alternatively, I might start an experiment, or run out to do errands and share a meal with friends, only to return to the lab when it’s convenient for me. I also want to spend some time relaxing—perhaps on my couch playing Halo—because I benefit from taking a break from directing other’s projects and thinking about how to solve a labmate’s bench woe.
So far, the vast majority of the undergrads I’ve trained during my research career have been premed students. With the numerous personal and professional advantages an in-depth research experience can provide, and how a successful research experience can support a medical school application, that is unlikely to change.
Most students prove to be an asset to my research team. They are motivated, dedicated, step up to extra responsibility without hesitation, and are helpful to their labmates. These are the undergrads who arrive at lab ready to work, ready to contribute, and ready to learn everything anyone is willing to teach them. These undergrads find the self-discipline to push through disappointment at the research bench, and like to be challenged—whether through learning a new technique, designing an experimental strategy, or interpreting data. They serve as ambassadors for their research and university at scientific meetings, present their projects at symposia, and occasionally, if all the stars align, earn coauthorship on a publication.