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Gap years and MD/PhD

swatttt007

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Aug 1, 2019
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  1. Pre-Medical
    So I've wanted to take a volunteering gap year. As I understand it's a bit of a red flag to MD/PhD programs if you spend the gap year doing not research, I was thinking of taking a second year at some sort of research fellowship so that way I could demonstrate to programs that the first gap year was just me doing something I thought was beneficial to my personal development, and not a sign that I wasn't all that interested in research. It'd also just generally be a good use of time as I'd be overseas the first year thus have to take a second year to apply anyway.

    Will this send the message I think it will? Or would MD/PhD programs still be uneasy about it? It won't change my decisions on what I'll do, it'll just let me know whether it'll be a smart idea to even try to apply MD/PhD.

    Also, the main source of fellowships I've found is some program done by the NIH. Does anyone know if it's any good? How competitive is it? Are there better programs out there?
     

    Lucca

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      If you are referreing to the IRTA for the research fellowship, it is an excellent program. It's not particularly competitive and will give you excellent experience in preparation for applying MD/PhD, but requires a lot of personal legwork to have a succesful application (individually reaching out to 50-100+ PIs + submitting the app).

      This is a bit of a subtle situation. It depends on the rest of your app. If you have no long-term research and take a gap year not doing research then your app is DOA @ MD/PhD programs. If you have a ton of experience already, strong letters, then a volunteer gap year wont necessarily hurt you but it is unlikely to help you. Would doing a research gap year after that improve that situation and help you a little? Maaaaaaybe. That said, you need to start the application process about a year out from matriculation so the research experience / letter from that subsequent research year would barely be on your app by the time you submit. To be significantly helpful you would probably need to take a third gap year, so 1 volunteering + 2 research years. BUT that's a lot of time to invest on an already absurdly long training path.

      My advice to you if you already have sufficient research XP + stats to be competitive for MD/PhD is to do the volunteering year for your own benefit and apply at the same time, start the MD/PhD training as soon as possible. If you are not already competitive for MD/PhD and want to do this roundabout gap year plan, I would want to know more about your career plans and aspirations before giving any advice. To be clear, the right question to be asking is not "would I be more competitive for MD/PhD programs compared to MD-only programs?" but "do I want to do an MD/PhD and why?"
       
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      swatttt007

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      Aug 1, 2019
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      1. Pre-Medical
        If you are not already competitive for MD/PhD and want to do this roundabout gap year plan, I would want to know more about your career plans and aspirations before giving any advice. To be clear, the right question to be asking is not "would I be more competitive for MD/PhD programs compared to MD-only programs?" but "do I want to do an MD/PhD and why?"
        Right, that's the other issue. I'm a second year right now, so this is more long term planning. I'll at least have an honors thesis under my belt by the time I graduate. Hopefully this coronavirus stuff clears up in time for me to make it a 2 year project, but who knows, it might end up only being a year. I have about a year's worth of research already through a freshman program. It was a really good experience, and I learned a lot about how research is actually done, however I'm not with that lab anymore so there wouldn't be continuity. I really enjoyed what I was doing in lab, but I don't know whether I would want focus so much on research at the expense of clinical time yet. Another idea behind doing this was so I could figure out how much I liked being in a lab for more significant amounts of time than is possible when balancing with school work. If it turns out I hate it, I could just withdraw the MD/PhD portions of applications (very school dependent I know) and yeah I wasted a little bit of money and time but better that than the several years of going through training I'm not so passionate about. If it turns out I like it, at least I can talk about it in interviews. However, maybe I'm a bit naive to think this is how things work.

        Thanks for all the info by the way! Super helpful.
         

        Lucca

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          Right, that's the other issue. I'm a second year right now, so this is more long term planning. I'll at least have an honors thesis under my belt by the time I graduate. Hopefully this coronavirus stuff clears up in time for me to make it a 2 year project, but who knows, it might end up only being a year. I have about a year's worth of research already through a freshman program. It was a really good experience, and I learned a lot about how research is actually done, however I'm not with that lab anymore so there wouldn't be continuity. I really enjoyed what I was doing in lab, but I don't know whether I would want focus so much on research at the expense of clinical time yet. Another idea behind doing this was so I could figure out how much I liked being in a lab for more significant amounts of time than is possible when balancing with school work. If it turns out I hate it, I could just withdraw the MD/PhD portions of applications (very school dependent I know) and yeah I wasted a little bit of money and time but better that than the several years of going through training I'm not so passionate about. If it turns out I like it, at least I can talk about it in interviews. However, maybe I'm a bit naive to think this is how things work.

          Thanks for all the info by the way! Super helpful.

          Ah yah so it's a bit early for you to be making this kind of decision overall.

          My general advice would be to figure out which path you want to take BEFORE you submit your application and go all-in on one path vs. the other. Why?

          1. MD/PhD program directors get a little nervous when they see apps that are also applying to MD only
          2. It will be harder for all of your various application materials, essays, LORs to fit into a cohesive, self-reinforcing package if you are trying to hedge all of your bets at application time. This is a bit unorthodox on SDN/reddit but I personally believe being able to "sell" your app to schools is one of THE big things you can do to take your app from good to excellent outside of scoring above a 520 on the MCAT; more importantly its completely under the applicants control at time of application unlike GPA/MCAT score which unfortunately become facts of life after a certain point.
          3. MD/PhD is a very, very long path with a lot of career/lifestyle tradeoffs and I dont think anyone should sign up for it without being fairly confident they want to be a physician scientist. "Being in the lab all the time" as you put it is one way that one can be a physician scientist, but there are many other kinds of outcomes. At the very least be comfortable with training twice as long for jobs which will require more work and half or less than half the pay of your full-time private practice counterparts; in other words love science very, very much. See my sig.
           
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