Advice needed!

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by silent_r, Nov 18, 2002.

  1. silent_r

    silent_r Junior Member

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    I am a freshman biochem & molecular biology major (philosophy minor) at a relatively small college. I'm already planning to apply to MD/PhD programs. I hope to do research this summer, and hopefully volunteer at a local hospital next year. Any advice on what else I should do that would help prepare me for the application process (how early is too early to take the MCAT?)
     
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  3. mjs

    mjs Millionaire, Superhero

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    Get as much clinical and research experience as you can and take the MCATs as soon after you complete the science requirements as possible. It makes preparing for it more of a review process instead of a relearning process.
     
  4. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
    Administrator Physician PhD Faculty SDN Advisor

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    Here's what I did to prepare for MSTP and my advice on preparation.

    I volunteered at a local hospital one day per week for 3 years. That may in some ways be overkill, but everywhere I go they ask me why I stayed so long and comment on how extraordinary that is. I don't think 5 more hours on top of classwork is a bad thing.

    I did research both during the summers and during the school year. If you can pull this off, I think that's the best thing to do. Try to find a Biology professor at your school who can start you on a project and get you trained on some techniques over the summer, and then continue there 10 - 20 hours per week during the school year. Then kick it back up every summer. I think that situation is ideal.

    As for the MCAT, that's a little more complicated... You aren't going to have any time to prepare for it if you do this crazy schedule that I just said you should do. What I did was take the MCAT in the August of my Junior year. That summer I did research (part-time) and studied really hard for the MCAT while taking a review course. However, if you do this, you will either end up taking a year off (which isn't a bad thing, especially if you're getting good lab experience or wanna travel or something) or end up applying late. Late applications are a bit of a handicap, but not as bad a handicap as 5 less points on the MCAT.

    Overall though it sounds like you're on the right track. Keep your GPA up and study hard for the MCAT, because those numbers are so important for MSTP applicants. Always do things sooner than later, so make sure you can have things lined up at the hospital and start looking for PIs to do research with next summer if you haven't done these things already.

    Good luck!
     
  5. surge

    surge Medicinski Znanstvenik

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    As far as summer research goes, there are a lot of 'summer undergraduate research fellowship' or SURF programs that people can apply to. These are probably the best way to get exposure to research that you might not get to do at your school (I too am at a smaller liberal arts institution), as well as going to a different school to get some variety in your experience. They pay anywhere from $2,000 - $4,000 a summer and tend to be cool because they're organized, you get to meet other people, etc.
    In my opinion there are two major things to keep in mind, however. For one, they tend to be pretty competitive (at better schools), often requiring previous experience. Also, you may not get to chose precisely who you will work with (although most ask you about general area of interest). This translates into the following:

    * as a freshman, with limited experience and classes, you will have a very hard time getting one of these. From personal experience I know it's certainly not impossible, but there may be easier ways to go

    * try to take advanced courses, as much as you can and are allowed, but clearly, don't get yourself in trouble by taking something you're not prepared for

    * start asking professors about their research, and find one whose lab you can 'check out'

    * I think that your best bet is waiting until your summer after sophomore year (and then definitely junior year) to formally apply to a SURF program

    * this first summer, I would suggest one of the following:

    - find a professor at your school who is doing what you are interested in and start working with him/her. See if they will have you (and pay you - although you may be in a position where this isn't such a big deal - it was for me) for the summer.

    - develop the best CV you can, secure a couple of good LORs and come up with a good, honest and ambitious statement about your current position, research interests and future plans. THEN HIT THE WEB. Do research on the areas you are interested in, looking at different schools' websites, finding people who do things you would like to do, where you would like to do them. Come up with a list (half a dozen to a dozen, perhaps - this depends on how good your credentials are and, more than anything: LUCK :D ), and send them an email (don't do a generic one, though). Include the CV and the statement, also tell them you'd be happy to provide references and transcripts, etc. Be very direct and honest. Tell them who you are, what your situation is, what your interests are and what you are hoping to do. Tell them you read about their research and you are interested in learning and working with them. It is crucial that this is true, at least to a point :cool: . Ask them if they would consider having you as a summer research student in their lab.
    Most will probably say no. That's fine. Some will say maybe.... In the end, all you need is one person to say yes.

    You'd be surprised what people are willing to give you and do for you if you ask. Ambition and drive are very appealing. Add a little ego-massaging, and they go a long way :D.

    Good luck. S.
     
  6. silent_r

    silent_r Junior Member

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    Thanks guys, lots of good advice ...

    I've already talked to several people about volunteering at LG hospital next year (when i'll have a car and all).

    I have some research experience (one pharmacology project published & presented at a neuroscience symposium). I also am doing work study with the environmental studies department at my college, where I am doing research and gaining experience with various instruments and equipment (HPLC, spectrophotometer, to name a few). I had hoped to pursue further research that is somewhat of an extention of what I am working on now. I guess my question is whether it is preferred that one focus on biomedical research, or is having scientific research experience in general acceptable?
     
  7. surge

    surge Medicinski Znanstvenik

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    Hmmm.... good question. I'm not sure.

    Personally, for example, I don't have research experience in precisely the area that I want to do work in, but I have a lot of different kinds of research experiences (from molecular to surgical). I think that, clearly, something is to be said about variety, but I think commitment is also important. I would recommend that between now and your junior year you get some experience along the lines of what you hope to be doing in graduate school - not necessarily the particular kind of project, but perhaps some exposure to the field. It really depends on you and your interests. I think the most important thing is that you do what you love (aside from doing it well :D ).
    I see nothing wrong with pursuing the project you mentioned, if it interests you. BTW, what are you interested in down the road?

    S.
     
  8. silent_r

    silent_r Junior Member

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    Overall, I'm most interested in pharmacology (more specifically neuropharmacology), long term. I guess right now I'm in one of those "I'm-interested-in-everything" phases.
     

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