Wednesday, 10 January 2018 15:41

Market Your Clinical Lab Skills when Applying to Graduate School

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Published in Careers

As a current or former Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS), you have many skills that make you attractive to graduate school programs in the sciences. The key is marketing these talents in your essays and interviews. A successful graduate school application needs to show that your clinical laboratory experience has given you transferable research skills. Your MLS experience will likely not be a substitute for some level of research experience at the undergraduate or postgraduate level, but it will set you apart from a sea of applicants. Selling your medical laboratory experience to the admissions committee will be just as critical as your research experience. Prove to them that your MLS experience is a valuable asset and demonstrate how your experiences have led you to pursue a graduate education.

Here are some uniquely MLS skills sure to dazzle any graduate admissions committee.

Attention to Detail
Remember all those times you double and triple checked a patient’s first and last name and date of birth? Well, that trained you to have a keen eye for detail and a  sharp organizational mind. You are less likely than your peers to mislabel your tubes and mix up your samples. This will save your lab crucial time and money when in graduate school.

Commitment to Results Integrity
As an MLS you know that getting accurate results could be a matter of life or death for a patient. This means you are aware of the need to get not just results but good results that come from consistent procedures.

Knowledge of Safe Lab Practices
Maybe you’ve handled a cerebrospinal fluid specimen from a suspected meningitis case or a respiratory specimen with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. You are a pro at handling potentially dangerous specimens with care. Your PI will rest easy knowing that you (and their lab) is safe.

Amazing Multitasking Abilities
You’ve been on the phone with an angry clinician while simultaneously tracking down a lost specimen and setting up a urine culture. You can manage your time while juggling different projects. This is valuable in the research lab where you will need to keep track of multiple experiments and projects.

Appreciation of Applied Science
You’ve seen science in action and how it can really impact people’s lives. Even if you have no intention of working in the diagnostics field in graduate school, you are motivated by the idea that science helps people and that will make you a grounded and practical-thinking graduate student.

Work Odd Hours
As a MLS, you likely worked at all hours of the day and had to provide results even on a Saturday. While your time in the research lab will likely be less structured than your clinical lab time, the hours can sometimes be just as strange. You have the choice of making your own hours and working from where you see fit.

Experienced Teacher
You have educated nurses on collection techniques, trained new employees on how to use the equipment, and maybe even taught a rotation student how to use a microscope. This will be valuable someday when you are a mentor to undergraduates in your lab and even more junior graduate students someday.

While the above skills are primarily geared toward a research degree in science, they are likely applicable towards advanced degrees in a number of fields. These skills are just a jumping-off point for you to tell your own unique story and experiences. Remember that your time spent as an MLS is critical to your future in science, and admissions committees in prospective graduate programs should be able to understand this after they’ve interviewed you.


Alexis Carpenter is currently a Ph.D. student in microbiology at Kansas State Univeristy. She was a graduate of the Medical Laboratory Science Program at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City and worked for St. Luke's Health System. She's passionate about public health and introducing others to the field of microbiology.


Last modified on Tuesday, 16 January 2018 09:58
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