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First Author Publications and Choice of Laboratory

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by Marquis_Phoenix, Mar 5, 2007.

  1. Marquis_Phoenix

    Marquis_Phoenix Junior Member 2+ Year Member

    May 6, 2006
    I'm just trying to get a sense of how critical it is to have a first author publication, or any publication for that matter for MD/PhD programs applying straight out of undergraduate.

    It seems virtually impossible to get a first-author publication out of my current lab (HHMI Investigator). It is a large, distinguished laboratory with 5+ postdoctoral fellows that produces 20+ publications annually in almost solely in high impact factor journals (5+ journals: Nature, Science, etc.). The past track-record suggests that at best, if I did remain in this laboratory for 2-3 years, I would be looking at third to sixth author paper as an undergraduate.

    Will I be punished for remaining in the same laboratory for 2-3 years without having a first author publication? Would it be advisable to switch to smaller laboratory that has fewer people working in it to increase the chance of getting authorship at all? Or can a strong recommendation letter from such a distinguished researcher (despite the lack of a publication in time for application, let alone first author) make up for the lack of a publication?

    Moreover, suppose that one moved around from lab to lab, from internship to internship, during the summers to try different areas within a field or gain new experience at a different lab. Would that be unfavorable to get a breadth of experience that doesn't necessarily result in first-author publications?
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  3. Doctor&Geek

    Doctor&Geek 25 > 5 / 15 < 8 Physician PhD Lifetime Donor Classifieds Approved 10+ Year Member

    Mar 25, 2002
    You won't lose with a strong letter from famous guy + any sort of publication from said guy's lab. I'd stay if I had a chance at a high-impact publication even as a low-end coauthor.
  4. Dr.Watson

    Dr.Watson 2+ Year Member

    Oct 11, 2006
    Most people on the interview trail didn't have any publications. Some definitely had their name on one or two. I don't think I met anyone with a first author publication. It's rare to do enough work as an undergrad to merit a first author publication. Any with a first author probably took a year or two off. Really, you'll do plenty of publishing once you're in the program. They just want to see you've done enough meaningful research to know what you're getting yourself into.

    Also, I don't think breadth will hurt you as long as you have meaningful experiences. Personally, I did quite a few labs (staying from 3 months to 2 years) and found it to be great. (Ironically, my 3 month summer lab produced the publications with my name on it =). I definitely have a good idea of what I'm looking for in a PI and how very different every lab is. One lab for 4 yrs wouldn't have given me that perspective.
  5. ThatOne

    ThatOne New Member 2+ Year Member

    Jun 13, 2006
    I'll second Dr. Watson on the breadth issue. Depth is important too, for sure, but a lot of my interviewers commented favorably that I had both breadth and depth in my laboratory experiences.
  6. Auraraptor

    Auraraptor 2+ Year Member

    Feb 16, 2007
    You don't need any publications to get in, but it definately helps.
  7. Jorje286

    Jorje286 Member 10+ Year Member

    Jul 19, 2004
    I don't think getting publications (and what author you are) matters that much. For example, a sixth author on a publication wouldn't necessarily have an advantage over someone who was really involved in his work and got the chance to develop his research skills. What the admissions want to see is evidence that you know what research is all about, and that you're good at it. Someone with a great letter of recommendation and seemingly knows what he talks about when he describes his research experience would have an advantage over an other who just got his name on a publication from a minor involvement. So my point is, as long as you feel that you are having the chance to develop your research skills in the lab and to show that development to your mentor, you're fine.
  8. chirurgino

    chirurgino A pound of flesh 2+ Year Member

    Oct 21, 2006
    The dark side of the moon
    Having a publication absolutely is NOT required. Obviously if you were Jim Watson or something it would be a bonus, but I certainly hope if that were the case you wouldn't be throwing away your Nobel-prize-winning career by applying to an MD-PhD program.

    You're already doing great, working for a high-profile HHMI lab. Just make sure that you're going all-out in the lab--you are learning far, far, far more about science there than you are in your science classes, believe me--and make sure that you clean house with that strong letter.

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