Becoming a Researcher-How to be one and why you should be one?

Animal Surgery Model

When I was a little child, I was constantly amazed by the anatomy and physiology of human beings. Of course, I was not thinking about anything that would get me a Nobel prize. They were small daily stuff that intrigued me. 

Why do people eat? 

Why do people drink?

Why will my finger bleed when I touch a sharp knife? 

Why will my finger stop bleeding in a while?

As I grew up and got into college, my interest in understanding the mechanism of human beings did not fade away. This was when I decided that I wanted to take a step further in understanding the mechanism. Besides learning the knowledge passively from all the biology and chemistry courses, I chose to actively discover new mechanisms in the realm of translational sciences. The decision led me to reach out to my current PI. At the time, I knew that I am incredibly interested in going into medicine, especially surgery. Therefore, I emailed several PIs in the department of surgery. Luckily, Dr. Neal saw my email and forwarded it to my mentor, Dr. Roberto Mota. I got interviewed!!!

Some general advice I have is listed below! They are sort of chronological.

  1. If you are interested in getting into the field of research, don’t hesitate to reach out! PIs can be intimidating, but they won’t bite!
  2. You want to reach out as soon as possible, but it is never too late to start your research journey. The peak season of applying to research is typically before summer break and before each semester starts.
  3. Now that you are finally determined to reach out to PIs, how do you find them? A typical mistake that most people make is to only look for mentors/PIs in the department of their majors. While it is certainly possible you might find a PI, the opportunities are way slimmer. I would recommend looking out for opportunities in graduate school that match your future career and majors. Say if you are a biology student like I am, you might want to reach out to PIs that are part of Pitt Pharmacy school, Pitt medical school, or Pitt Rehab Science school. If you are a political science student, you might want to consider mentors in Pitt law school.
  4. How should you reach out to them? An attractive resume is halfway to success. I would highly recommend everyone to polish their resumes. You only want to keep the relevant experiences! An attractive resume is not about quantity. Quality matters more!
  5. Now you have a charming resume and a sincere email prompt that shows your research interest. How should you send out the email? (Yes, yes, and yes, there are tricks for sending out emails) PIs are constantly flooded with emails. They may easily receive 50+ emails a day, and your email may never be opened if you don’t send it correctly. A trick that I typically use is to send the email later at night and super early in the morning. This trick keeps your email on the top of their email list, which vastly increases your chance of successfully getting a reply!
  6. Most importantly! Although interest does matter, be open-minded!

When most people think about research, they typically go that research is essential because it helps unfold the mysteries. While this statement is undoubtedly true and accurate, I recognize it slightly differently:

  1. Conducting research maintains my curiosity about the unknown.
  2. Research trains me to be more observable to the minor differences.
  3. Research teaches to be resourceful and approach the same problem from different angles to prove the hypothesis.
  4. Doing all those basic benchtop techniques teaches me that there is always room for improvement. Therefore I am constantly compiling and concluding my mistakes, reflecting upon them, and looking for ways of improvement the next time.

In my view, all of these fantastic qualities will be especially beneficial when I start practicing medicine as a physician.

Leave a Reply