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Broad or focused? Undergrad or grad?

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by kmoody, Dec 24, 2008.

  1. kmoody

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    Greetings. I would like to thank everyone that posts in this forum for their incredible insights and suggestions. Like many of you I have been looking around for advice on graduate programs, and as a student coming from a low key state university with negligible premed advising, any and all advice is greatly appreciated. This being said...

    Education

    At present I am an undergraduate student majoring in psychology. I started with two lazy years and a 2.9 GPA before becoming motivated. Around December last year I decided I wanted to go into research to study human aging (fascinating area of research!) and declared a second major in biochemistry with minors in computer science and gerontology. I have received mostly A's and have since boosted my GPA to 3.47.

    Pre-med courses completed:
    Bio 1 & 2
    Che 1 & 2
    Genetics
    Calc 1
    Organic 1
    Organic 2 (taking coming semester)
    Cell Bio (taking coming semester)
    Physics 1 (taking over summer)
    Physics 2 (taking over summer)

    Work Experience

    Last summer (2008) I wrote a protocol for a non-profit research organization which allows them to provide research opportunities to undergraduate students by funding labs and providing competitive scholarships. In a nutshell, I am the program director (see www.mfuri.org) and oversee (either directly or indirectly depending on the project) the research of around 20 undergraduate students. While I do work on developing relevant science projects (my contributions mostly relate to neural science as this is my strongest area at present given my background in psychology), my primary role is as an administrator, and I work with a volunteer staff of graduate students, PhDs, and marketing professionals. I would like to contribute more to developing research projects and mentoring our student researchers as my knowledge of the subject material improves.

    Extra curricular / additional skills

    Division III athlete (basketball), tech savvy (home networking, limited programming, web designer, learning to use software to design php and sql websites which will allow for database development), and entrepreneur (starting small local business which converts old home videos and vinyl to DVD/CDR; using as a learning experience to understand tax laws, copyright laws, business management, etc). I intend to do an internship this summer at our local hospital or at the biochemistry research lab of the foundation I work for.

    The Goal

    My goal is to be accepted into a MD/PhD program, after which I would like to do research relevant to longevity science.

    The Questions

    The Dean of Arts and Sciences at my university said I should drop my minors and biochemistry major, and graduate at the end of this coming (spring) semester, then enroll for the university's MS program in natural science. The idea was that I could take my MCATs and catch up on necessary coursework at that time, because if I completed the majors and minors I would graduate with something like 250 credits (double what is needed for a degree).

    1. I read on the website that undergrad grades count for more than graduate grades. Would a 3.5 UG with a 3.7-4.0 grad GPA suffice for admission? The forum only mentions straight UG grades (unless I missed the link).

    2. I will take all the necessary courses (biochemistry, calc II, etc.) needed for a MD/PhD program. I will be starting research in biochemistry this coming semester, and possibly projects in either neural science or organic chemistry over the next year or two. The question is whether I should do all this as an UG or a grad student. Other than cost, which would be recommended and why?

    3. What types of shadowing / internships would be most appropriate to give me a strong background?

    4. What other thoughts / suggestions could you provide on how I should approach?

    As mentioned, I am greatly appreciative of any advice you can provide. I am extremely hard working and dedicated to achieving my goals, but I am desperate for guidance on the best way to approach. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season, and thank you in advance!

    PMs are also welcomed!
     
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  3. kmoody

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    I also forgot to add:

    Question: Will my highly diverse background (biochem, psychology, computer science, gerontology, business administration) be of any benefit, or would it be better for me to focus mostly on the biochemistry / pre-med work?
     
  4. bd4727

    10+ Year Member

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    In my opinion, if you are ready to graduate just graduate. Then, if your application isn't strong enough to get into an MD/PhD program (ie research expereince) then doing a Masters will give you that experience but in a more focused, time-committed way. Not a single person I have ever talked to cares about multiple majors. A masters, while uncessesary, will make you stand out a bit.

    From your post, my observation is that you need to start getting research experience and fast. Most sucessful MD/PhD students I have met have spent about 2 years time working in a lab. While I think that the other things you have done are great (and probably actually more valuable) the fact of the matter is to get into competative MD/PhD programs you have to have the standard amount of research experience.

    The shadowing thing should be relatively low on your list of things to do. Most people just hook up with a doc and follow them around 10x. For MD/PhDs this is not ever the deal breaker, but more of something you need to have done to fill out that box.

    Again, different people will tell you different things but I see no advantage at all of staying in undergrad just to bring your grades up by 0.2 points. Especially if you/your parents are paying tuition. If that is the case I don't see why you wouldn't just get in a masters program or NIH Postbac or something.
     
  5. GliaGirl

    5+ Year Member

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    Yeah, getting research experience is the most important thing for you right now.

    You GPA is not awesome, but it's not terrible and probably won't hurt you too much. As long as you mention your upward trend in your essays, schools will forgive you for the most part.

    If you're REALLY worried about your GPA, you can always take undergrad courses along with your grad course work, and boost your GPA that way. But if you have a Master's degree with a high graduate GPA, that is probably a lot more impressive than a double major. Also, it'll prove that you can do grad level work, which is one of the most important things to an MD/PhD program.

    Out of curiosity: if you don't have any experience doing research yet, how do you know that an MD/PhD program is right for you? I'm not trying to sound patronizing, I am honestly curious as to what draws you to MD/PhD.
     
  6. itsallthesame

    2+ Year Member

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    There are four things that will decide if/where you get in:
    1) You have taken the required courses.
    2) You have a strong MCAT.
    3) You have amazing letters of rec from researchers.
    4) You interview well.

    To take care of 1, you don't need a masters. It will be a waste of money. Heck, the required courses are all undergrad courses, so they shouldn't count towards a master's anyways. Take them as a post bacc somewhere.
    2, I can't help you with, but you should do some studying/prep and take a few practice tests and see where you stand.
    4, requires that you know your research well enough to defend a doctoral dissertation. If you can do that, your grades won't really matter.

    3 is the hard one, especially without research experience and at a small state school. You need to get into a good lab (and I mean a good lab) somehow and be a productive researcher for two + years. You must either A) get a first author pub from a decent journal (impact over 8) B) several so-so first author pubs or C) have your boss say that you are one of brightest students that he has had and that you have your OWN project, do almost all of the work on it, that you are on one of the major projects in his lab, and that a STRONG publication is in the works.

    Grades are nice, but they don't show potential as a researcher, so worry about them less. If you publish first author impact factor over 10, you'll get in (with a 3.0+, 32+) somewhere. So focus on MCAT and finding a GOOD lab to work in after you graduate. Also, if you still need a few u-grad classes, many U's will give their employees a free class/semester as a benefit. Working as a research tech would then save you TONS of money over a masters (free courses + pay over paying for tuition and no pay). Be prepared to work long weeks to make an impression.
     
  7. bd4727

    10+ Year Member

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    If you pursue a Masters in biomedical sciences through a thesis option track, most schools will pay your tuition and give you a graduate student stipend while you are in their program, generally through the PIs lab you are in.

    Anyway, like I said I think for MD/PhD a masters is generally overkill, but in the OP's case if he/she is looking to spend 2 years post-grad doing research and is concerned about their UG grades, then this may be a good option.
     

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