Any advice on how to make myself competitive for MD/PhD programs in the next 3-4 years?

streampaw

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I just graduated from high school BUT ALSO with an associates degree from a community college. I went to community college instead of high school for the last 2 years of high school (took actual college classes with all the college students, but got credit for both high school and college), and therefor graduated high school and community college in June.

Problem is, my community college GPA is a 3.6. I transferred to my state university and am going to take 3 more years to graduate, and I am in the honors program, where students do a senior research thesis. I am already volunteering in a biochemistry research lab.

Problem #1: I don't want to major in biochemistry, but I am enjoying the research I do at the lab that is in the biochemistry department. This is okay with the honors program, they will still accept a thesis in biochem even if I major in biology. I want to major in molecular biology, but do biochemistry research. Will MD/PhD programs look down on this? That I didn't do research in a biology lab, but did it in a biochem lab instead?

Problem #2: I'm not sure if I will be able to accumulate publications. The lab is pretty small, with just a few graduate students, and no other undergrad students, and I'm not sure how fast another paper will be published. If I do a senior honors thesis, I don't know if it will be published or not.

Question #1: What if I decide to switch labs in a year? I am thinking of trying out a summer research program that is at my university. You have to join one of their program labs for the summer, and the lab I volunteer at isn't one of them. Well, what happens if I like a different lab later on, after I have volunteered at my current lab for a year? What if I switch labs? Would that be negative on MD/PhD admissions? Like, say I volunteer at the biochem lab for a year, and then I work at some bio lab (different lab) for 2 years. Would this be somewhat negative? I heard that MD/PhD programs look for students with 3+ years of research experience in ONE lab... This kind of worries me. What if I decide to switch labs to try out something new? Or should I just stick with the lab I'm at right now no matter what?

Question #2: How many months of clinical volunteering should I have, if I do 4 hours a week at a hospital?
Do MD/phd programs prefer that I volunteer at one place for 2+ years, or at a few different hospitals, for 6 months each?
I also will get some shadowing too.

Question #3: Non-clinical volunteering, and other EC's.... What if you don't have any other EC's besides research, hospital volunteering, shadowing, and say a part-time tutoring job? Do you need a lot of leadership experience and non-clinical volunteer hours? If you do, how many months/years of non-clinical volunteering do you need, assuming you do 2-3 hours a week?

Thanks for all of your input. I am also working on raising my GPA.
 

Neuronix

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Problem #1: Non-issue.

Problem #2: Not much of an issue. I constantly say on this forum that publishing for undergrads doesn't really matter, but nobody ever believes me. IMO, a senior honors thesis is a waste of time. If you can drop that and focus on working on publication material instead of honors thesis, that would be preferable. Even if you can only present an abstract at a national/international conference, that is preferable.

Question #1: Non-issue. Do what you find most interesting to you.

Question #2: Non-issue. Probably should aim for 100+ total hours of clinical volunteering/shadowing.

Question #3: What you proposed is fine for MD/PhD. The big three for MD/PhD are research, GPA, and MCAT. Some clinical volunteering/shadowing is preferable, and you already covered that.

The GPA is the biggest issue here. Also, your MCAT score will be the big issue later. Do research early and often.
 
Dec 17, 2012
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Hello, So I copied your problems and below them put my answer:


Problem #1: I don't want to major in biochemistry, but I am enjoying the research I do at the lab that is in the biochemistry department. This is okay with the honors program, they will still accept a thesis in biochem even if I major in biology. I want to major in molecular biology, but do biochemistry research. Will MD/PhD programs look down on this? That I didn't do research in a biology lab, but did it in a biochem lab instead?


Answer: No, they won’t. MD/PhD programs look for sustained evidence of research experience, productivity, and independence (regardless of lab). Just because your current lab experience did not align with your major is not of any large concern to them. MD/PhD adcom's have gone through the research gauntlet before and understand that it is difficult to find the perfect lab with the perfect principal investigator that is doing the perfect research that fits with you.


Problem #2: I'm not sure if I will be able to accumulate publications. The lab is pretty small, with just a few graduate students, and no other undergrad students, and I'm not sure how fast another paper will be published. If I do a senior honors thesis, I don't know if it will be published or not.


Answer: Not having a publication will not derail your chances. It is not necessary to have a 1st author pub to get into an MD/PhD program. However, they are helpful. In lieu of this, sustained evidence of research exposure is a must. Make sure you’re able to take on independent projects in the laboratory that leads to either a poster (s), presentation (s), or something else. Another thing that is very important in the MD/PhD application realm are letters of recommendation (LOR) from your principal investigator (PI). They really pay attention to them. Make sure your PI just doesn't use you as an extra set of hands. Rather, that he/she provides mentorship, life lessons, and what it is like to be a part of the biomedical research enterprise.



Question #1: What if I decide to switch labs in a year? I am thinking of trying out a summer research program that is at my university. You have to join one of their program labs for the summer, and the lab I volunteer at isn't one of them. Well, what happens if I like a different lab later on, after I have volunteered at my current lab for a year? What if I switch labs? Would that be negative on MD/PhD admissions? Like, say I volunteer at the biochem lab for a year, and then I work at some bio lab (different lab) for 2 years. Would this be somewhat negative? I heard that MD/PhD programs look for students with 3+ years of research experience in ONE lab... This kind of worries me. What if I decide to switch labs to try out something new? Or should I just stick with the lab I'm at right now no matter what?



Answer: It wouldn't be a negative. What I would do is before you switch to a new bio lab, talk to the Post docs in the lab. Pubmed the PI and see their publication record. Go to NIH reporter and search for what type of grants they have accumulated at your institution (i.e. R01, R21, etc etc). This will give you an idea of how productive the laboratory is. Also, most PI will be able to tell you who in their lab in prior years have gone onto successful matriculation into PhD programs, MD programs, MD/PhD programs. Now, if you have the opportunity to choose a lab, then use these tools mentioned above as a way to gauge whether or not you will be able to obtain significant research experience that leads to an independent project.



Question #2: How many months of clinical volunteering should I have, if I do 4 hours a week at a hospital? Do MD/phd programs prefer that I volunteer at one place for 2+ years, or at a few different hospitals, for 6 months each? I also will get some shadowing too.


Answer: One place, i.e. hospital ER or shadowing a doctor for 2+ years is better than two different hospitals for 6 months. In my opinion, this is seen as more positive because as it should lead to a LOR from someone who has known you for an extensive amount of time. Adcoms want quality over quantity when it comes to activities.



Question #3: Non-clinical volunteering, and other EC's.... What if you don't have any other EC's besides research, hospital volunteering, shadowing, and say a part-time tutoring job? Do you need a lot of leadership experience and non-clinical volunteer hours? If you do, how many months/years of non-clinical volunteering do you need, assuming you do 2-3 hours a week?


Answer: Tutoring is good, you can label this as a leadership experience. Another thing you can do is get involved at some local pre-med club at your school and be on their board, be an RA at your school dorm, and/or even be part of the SGA. Now, with all of that said: Make sure you NEVER jeopardize your ability to get awesome grades. Although, grades are not the only factor, they almost serve as a baseline to help rank applicants in programs. An Adcom would rather see a 3.9 GPA and one less EC than a 3.4 GPA and an extra EC. Like I said before, quality over quantity.

Also, if you can have an EC that is out of the ordinary. Adcoms see thousands of applications with research, clinical, volunteer, and/or tutoring experience. It can get mundane and boring. Add some spice to your application and do something that will make you unique. Finally, make sure your MCAT is competitive. I believe a 34 is the average for competitive applicants.

PM me if you have more questions.