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I'm currently finishing up my second year of undergraduate studies and overall I've gotten some pretty average to good grades. Over the summer, I would like to focus a little bit on myself and my health, but I'm worried not using my time to work on some academia would be detrimental when I want to apply to grad school.

What is something I could do that would still leave me with a lot of time to focus on myself?

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If you want to do something that will help you get into and succeed in graduate school, I strongly recommend looking for a summer research project with a professor. Many professors hire students over the summer to work on projects with them, and some institutions even provide internal "student research" support that makes it particularly easy for any professor to do so.

There are many advantages of doing such a project, including:

  • Getting a taste of research in general and also in a particular area, to see if you really like it
  • Summer projects let you focus on research in a way that term-time projects do not, yet can still be confined to 9-5 hours.
  • You will have an opportunity to learn a lot of research-specific skills.
  • You will get to exercise things you learned in your classes, which may significantly improve both your knowledge and your motivation to learn, since you will tangle with the realities of applying this knowledge, and may improve your future grades.
  • You will be able to talk about research experience and may be able to get a good recommendation letter from the professor you work with, both of which are extremely valuable for grad school applications.

Now, if you prefer to do other things, self-care, etc., there's no reason that you have to do such a project. It can, however, be a lovely experience, and if you're choosing between working a research job and working a non-research job, I highly recommend making the research choice!

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@Jakebeal has given you one very good option. If you can do this, and it won't take up too much of your time, then you probably should.

Alternatively, if you have no possibilities for joining a research lab, or you need more personal time that that would allow, another option which you might consider is collaborating with a researcher to write a literature review paper in an area that you are interested in.

Before doing this you would need to i) identify what to do with the paper (even publishing it on a blog could work) and ii) someone with publishing experience to collaborate with when doing it.

You need i) and ii) resolved to make this work, but both are doable. For instance you could email, or visit researchers, and ask them to i) suggest a place you could submit a review to, and ii) to supervise you with it.

The benefits (relative to working in a lab) are that this would be less time consuming and freedom restricting (you could work on it when you wanted). You could therefore have a non research job, take a holiday or do whatever. You would still be able to potentially get a reference and would definitely get some research experience. Of course the tradeoff is that you would not gain as much as if you actually worked within a laboratory, or directly within a research team.

Please let me know if you would like any more details/suggestions related to this :)

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