Getting Involved in Research

How much research is enough?

Looking at the NRMP data on how much research successful applicants to dermatology were involved in can be a little scary. On average, students who matched had around 20 abstracts, presentations, or publications. While you should certainly strive to be involved in research, there really isn’t a specific poster/publication number that you have to hit. Your goal is to show interest in the field. Quality of your projects is more important than quantity!

As you get involved in research, you will find that you will often be able to gain multiple posters/presentations/publications from one project. For example, one original research project can result in a publication, an abstract to a conference, and a poster at a conference. When you enter this on ERAS (the application system for residency) this will count as one project in the research experiences section, but you can technically list all three outcomes under their respective categories (paper, abstract (which counts as a publication if the conference publishes their abstracts), and poster). It is through this process of “double dipping” that people reach the high publication/poster numbers seen on the NRMP data.

Finding a research mentor

  • The first step in becoming involved in research is to find a research mentor. Spend some time going through your home Dermatology Department’s website to review the faculty’s interests, and consider who you would want to work with.
    • Once you have identified potential mentors, send them an email to introduce yourself and see if you could set up a time to meet to discuss your interest in the dermatology and potentially join any research projects that are ongoing. 
  • If you do not have a home department, or if your interests are not represented in your home department, do not hesitate to reach out to faculty at other institutions. You will often find that even if you are not from their program, they will be more than willing to meet with you if you demonstrate a genuine interest in their field of research. 
    • If you read an article and are interested in working with the authors of that paper, check and see if the first or senior authors have their emails listed on Pubmed (typically a little mail icon near their name).
  • If you have your own idea for a project, try to find a mentor with a similar interest and then approach them with your idea. 

Example cold email template

Dear Dr. _____, 

My name is [Insert Name] and I am a [Insert Year] from [Insert School]. I am interested in pursuing a career in Dermatology and am reaching out to introduce myself and express my interest in your research. [Insert why you are interested in working with that individual and are interested in their research topics]

If you are available, I was hoping to meet with you to learn more about your work and see if you currently have any projects I may be of assistance with. I have attached my CV detailing my research experience for your review. I look forward to hearing from you. 


Other research opportunities

  • The summer between M1 and M2: Many students utilize the summer after their first year of medical school to conduct research. Take advantage of any summer research fellowships that your school or department offers. This summer can also be a great time to explore other dermatology programs by conducting research at a different department. The Research Fellowship Spreadsheet has a tab for funding opportunities that students can apply for.
  • Research year/fellowship: Many students in dermatology choose to take a year off between their M3 and M4 year to pursue research. Sometimes, students may even take a research year early between their M2 and M3 year. DIGA maintains a comprehensive list of fellowships on our Research Fellowship Spreadsheet
  • Research away rotations: A great in-person and virtual option! Some are listed in the Visiting Student Learning Opportunities (VLSO) portal, whereas others may be listed on the program-specific website. Check these out as a good way to utilize M4 elective time and network with faculty in your research area of interest.

Types of research

  • Case reports/Case series
    • Case reports are reports of one cases of a specific disease process. Significant attention is directed toward detailing symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes.
    • Case series are similar to case reports but describe more than one case of a specific disease with an intent to identify patterns.
    • Guide on writing a case report:
  • Literature reviews
    • Synthesis of a body of published literature and commentary on a given topic.
      • Systematic reviews are literature reviews that use a systematic approach to search for all articles on a specific topic. Often, researchers utilize librarian resources for SRs. Systematic reviews often include a PRISMA statement (
    • Meta-analyses are a specific type of systematic review that statistically and quantitatively pools results from other studies. These studies tend to be high-impact, but very time and resource intensive.
    • Guide on conducting a systematic review and meta analysis:
    • Commentaries/Editorials
      • Primarily by invitation only. Often discussions or thought pieces on timely events or issues on a piece of literature published in the specific journal.
  • Original research 
    • Prospective studies
      • These are usually IRB approved studies, which means that the study was given approval because they’ll be using patient data
    • Retrospectives studies
      • Studies that create a dataset or utilize an existing dataset, where the event(s)/disease(s) of interest may have already occurred.
    • Cross-sectional studies 
      • Assessing data at one point in time.
      • NOTE: Original research can be submitted as either as a full manuscript, or as a research letter. Research letters are for smaller projects and typically have a 500 word limit with only 1 table and/ figure.

Helpful tools while doing research:

  • Consider using a reference manager such as EndNote or Mendeley while working on research projects. You can utilize these programs to keep your references in order while you are writing, and as you edit your manuscript they automatically update and reorder your references. 
    • YouTube tutorials are available to help learn how to use reference managers.
  • Experience with a statistical analysis program (i.e., STATA or SPSS) is an asset to have while emailing physicians or engaging in projects. If you do not have experience with this software, try to learn, or see whether your mentor/department has a data analyst who could help with those calculations.
  • Once you know what journal you will be submitting your paper to, make sure to reference the author guidelines for that journal! The guidelines provide limitations on word count, authors, references, for each type of paper that is submitted.