Learning to Ask for Help

I’m not above asking for help when I can’t do something or need clarification.  Indeed, this is something which I do nearly every day at work or at school.  But, for some reason, I’m having a really hard time getting used to the fact that, in order to get into medical school, I’m largely dependent upon others.  Letters of recommendation, research and clinical opportunities, etc. are all things that I have to actively go out and ask people for.  I absolutely hate it.  And yes, I’m aware that it’s standard fare and that I’ll be doing it for years.  That doesn’t make it any easier.

The reason I bring this up now is because I’m trying to figure out how to get involved in some sort of clinical research at the medical school down the street.  I have a background in radiation effects and physics, and I’m interested in seeing how those sorts of things are applied to cancer treatment, so I’d like to get involved with someone in the radiation oncology department.  In theory, I suppose that I should contact one of the physicians in that department, but I have no idea how to broach the subject.  I’ve spent a good portion of my afternoon working on an email to a doctor in the rad-onc department, but have no idea what to say or even what to ask.

It feels really awkward and random – is this a normal thing that medical school applicants do?  Anyone have some advice on asking to get involved in the work that someone is doing?  I’d appreciate the help.

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3 Responses

  1. Asking to be involved in research projects is something that you’ll be doing throughout your medical career, whether it be at the medical student, resident, or fellow stage (or beyond). Most researchers love having help (especially free or inexpensive help), so don’t feel hesitant about asking to get involved with someone’s research. My advice would be to know what you’re looking for before you start sending out emails – are you looking to write a case report with someone or to do an ongoing research project? Also, there may be a research contact/coordinator for the medical school who would be a better person to approach than individual researchers. The medical school undergraduate office may be able to help you identify this person. Good luck!

    • So it’s normal to ask to help. Good to know.

      Your suggestion about contacting a research coordinator is an interesting one. The institution that I’m finishing my premed requirements at is closely related to the medical school. So, perhaps I should approach my premed advisor first and see if he has an idea on how to get connected with someone at the university?

  2. Very normal to ask to help. You might or might not even be able to get paid, especially if you “do” clinical research, since a lot of it is going to be administrative. You could try talking to the pre-med advisior….. but the one’s at my school didn’t really know anyone. I’d look on your university’s job board and see if they’re offering any positions for project managers / research assistants. MSO’s idea about contacting a research coordinator is a decent one…. but it can be tough to figure out who those people are.

    Alternatively, you could contact someone in the rad onc department directly after perusing their bio online. Most rad onc people I know do basic science research, but there are probably some who do clinical research as well. Clinical research is rampant among medical oncologists, so you might have more luck there. There’s also urology, obgyn, neurology, and neurosurgery, and sometimes even general surgery who might have people who do things you’re interested in. Then you can contact them directly.

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