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Help with MD/PhD school list. (522/3.90)

MD2025-applicant

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Hi guys! I'm applying MD/PhD this upcoming cycle and was wondering if I could get help with my current school list. My profile right now is:

Profile: Rising senior at top 10 undergrad (no gap year), double majoring in Biology and Statistics, Asian

State: Ohio

cGPA: 3.90

BCPM GPA: 3.91

MCAT: 522

Research: Worked in a basic science lab since freshman year, have had 3 in-school summer research fellowship grants. However, no publications from this lab and only one poster at an in-school conference (canceled due to COVID :(). Besides this, I have one 8th author basic science paper in a small impact journal from a previous lab I worked in high school and a summer of college, and 2nd author in a small clinical research paper that I worked on with a med student last summer. I have a really good relationship with my PI so I'm hoping my rec letter will be strong from him. Can't research this summer unfortunately due to COVID :(.

Volunteering (clinical): ~220 hrs at University's hospital and VA hospice

Physician shadowing: 70 hrs w/ Interventional Radiologist, 20 hrs w/ cardiologist (my PI).

Volunteering (nonclinical): ~40 hrs tutoring kids in the community, ~80 hrs volunteering with service fraternity, mostly serving a food bank that advises diabetics on healthier diet. ~80 hrs at a food bank in Michigan since COVID outbreak.

Extracurriculars: Treasurer of an on-campus club that promotes research opportunities, as well as research ambassador, TA for statistics class for a semester during junior year (this is definitely my weakest part of the app)

Employment: none

Weekly schedule: spend most of my time in lab, probably 4-5 hrs a day.

Immediate family members: My parents are both doctors

Specialty: for now, Cardiology/vascular biology, but also open to other fields depending on how my research interests and med school experience changes.

I'm trying to apply to around 30 schools. My school list is:

  1. Harvard
  2. JHU
  3. U Penn
  4. Stanford
  5. WashU
  6. UCSF
  7. Columbia
  8. UCLA
  9. Duke
  10. NYU
  11. Mayo
  12. Cornell
  13. U Mich
  14. Yale
  15. U Chicago
  16. U Wash
  17. Northwestern
  18. U Pitt
  19. Vanderbilt
  20. Mt. Sinai
  21. UCSD
  22. Emory
  23. Baylor
  24. Case Western
  25. U Texas Southwestern
  26. U North Carolina
  27. U Virginia
  28. U Wisconsin
  29. U Maryland
  30. Ohio State
  31. U Cincinnati
  32. Augusta U at GA
I'm wondering if the list is too top-heavy? If so, any recommendations on how I can narrow down some of the top schools. Furthermore, any recommendations on good mid-tier/lower-tiered schools for MD/PhD? Thank you so much for your help!
 
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931kra

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Your list is top-heavy but you sound stellar on paper so the list is fitting, although a couple more OSU/UMD-level schools might be smart. Were the IR shadowing hours with one of your parents (only asking because it's probably better not to include them if so--otherwise you're fine!). Some PCP shadowing would be great but likely not needed.

Make sure your essays are all compelling and you submit early-ish, and I bet you'll have a strong cycle! Good luck :)
 
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MD2025-applicant

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Get a good idea of what translational science is and why you want to straddle bench and bedside. Do you know what you're looking for in a mentor and how to resolve interpersonal problems within your research team?

Thank you for your response @Mr.Smile12 ! In terms of a mentor, I think I'd like to find someone who's also a physician-scientist and has ample insights and experience in propelling research with clinical insights. But furthermore, it would be nice if the mentor is very interactive and supportive with the students, like my current PI is, has a passion for teaching/mentoring and can provide valuable guidance in the process of forming and writing proposals and grants.

Could you elaborate on the interpersonal problems within the research team?
 
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MD2025-applicant

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Your list is top-heavy but you sound stellar on paper so the list is fitting, although a couple more OSU/UMD-level schools might be smart. Were the IR shadowing hours with one of your parents (only asking because it's probably better not to include them if so--otherwise you're fine!). Some PCP shadowing would be great but likely not needed.

Make sure your essays are all compelling and you submit early-ish, and I bet you'll have a strong cycle! Good luck :)

Thank you for your reponse @NatGeoLover ! My IR experience was not with my parents. Do you have any advice on how I can eliminate some of the upper tiered schools on my list? I feel like many of the schools I have are strong in the areas I'm interested in. Could you tell me what are some schools in the OSU/UMD level? Would UColorado and UAB fall in that category? Also, what's the typical proportion of schools for each tiers that MSTP applicants normally apply with? Thank you so much!
 
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931kra

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Thank you for your reponse @NatGeoLover ! My IR experience was not with my parents. Do you have any advice on how I can eliminate some of the upper tiered schools on my list? I feel like many of the schools I have are strong in the areas I'm interested in. Could you tell me what are some schools in the OSU/UMD level? Would UColorado and UAB fall in that category? Also, what's the typical proportion of schools for each tiers that MSTP applicants normally apply with? Thank you so much!
It's difficult to say which MSTPs are in which "tiers" (or even if there are tiers), and I'm no expert, but I think the tippy top programs are those that everybody knows about--HMS, Penn, Stanford, JHU, etc. My recommendation for the OSU-level programs was mostly just for the *slightly* less competitive location/prestige factor.

I think Colorado and UAB are both great options, especially if they're the right size for what you want, have research in the area you want to pursue, and are in a geographic location that you like! I would use those same metrics to remove the tippy top programs that are "worse" fits for you. Obviously, they're all great schools, but Penn =/= Vandy =/= UCSD in terms of research strengths, size, location, etc for example! Figure out which things matter most to you and then get rid of the schools that aren't as good fits.
 
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Thank you for your response @Mr.Smile12 ! In terms of a mentor, I think I'd like to find someone who's also a physician-scientist and has ample insights and experience in propelling research with clinical insights. But furthermore, it would be nice if the mentor is very interactive and supportive with the students, like my current PI is, has a passion for teaching/mentoring and can provide valuable guidance in the process of forming and writing proposals and grants.

Could you elaborate on the interpersonal problems within the research team?
So, how comfortable are you with a large research team? Would you want to work under postdocs or how about clinicians working in the lab? How have you managed conflict when it comes to authorship, or data analysis? How does your PI "hand off" projects to individuals who graduate? How willing is your PI in "science outreach" projects or say being a TA? There are stories about people who had issues with where their bench was placed or someone controlling the radio in an open lab setup...

I advise anyone applying to MSTP programs that there are no tiers. They all have great students and PI's, and all the physician-scientists know each other pretty well. Presume they talk with each other no matter where you apply or interview. They all meet at least annually for a conference (I think in Colorado). And if you get to interview stage, a good proportion of the fellow interviewees you will see again.
 
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depression_is_in

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need ~3000 - 4000 research hours to be competitive @ MSTP

They would rather have a kid with ~3000-4000 hours and a 511 than a kid with a 522 and ~900. Source: a seminar I attended from UT-Southwestern (he said this exact thing).

Friend of mine got into Dartmouth MSTP with a 509 and a really clear and strong research vision + 3000 hours.

Just doing undergrad research might hurt- helps extremely to be involved in a lab full time for a year. Hence why so many MSTP kids are the postbags from the NIH (ie. me, but not doing MSTP)

You slayed the MCAT and stat major are going to give you an obvious edge as a scientist. Don't count on these to get you into Harvard MSTP alone- I have tons of friends (again, NIH kids) with these same stats but had trouble getting in to ANY programs because they did not have a clear research vision or enough hours. Different friend? Got in with 522 and great research vision to Penn.

So be careful with MD/PhD. It's definitely more binary than MD only (ie. they don't really care about volunteering in MSTP).... but you'll be fine if you can show your research vision + hours + publications + statistics
 
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931kra

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need ~3000 - 4000 research hours to be competitive @ MSTP

They would rather have a kid with ~3000-4000 hours and a 511 than a kid with a 522 and ~900. Source: a seminar I attended from UT-Southwestern (he said this exact thing).

Friend of mine got into Dartmouth MSTP with a 509 and a really clear and strong research vision + 3000 hours.

Just doing undergrad research might hurt- helps extremely to be involved in a lab full time for a year. Hence why so many MSTP kids are the postbags from the NIH (ie. me, but not doing MSTP)

You slayed the MCAT and stat major are going to give you an obvious edge as a scientist. Don't count on these to get you into Harvard MSTP alone- I have tons of friends (again, NIH kids) with these same stats but had trouble getting in to ANY programs because they did not have a clear research vision or enough hours. Different friend? Got in with 522 and great research vision to Penn.

So be careful with MD/PhD. It's definitely more binary than MD only (ie. they don't really care about volunteering in MSTP).... but you'll be fine if you can show your research vision + hours + publications + statistics
I took their original post to mean that they had done three years of research during the academic year so far, in addition to three summer fellowships? Did I misinterpret that?

If you have only done summer research, things will be tougher @MD2025-applicant -- @depression_is_in makes a good point. If the research has been over three academic years and three summers, though, then you're probably in good shape as that would be 2000+ hours.
 
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MD2025-applicant

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I took their original post to mean that they had done three years of research during the academic year so far, in addition to three summer fellowships? Did I misinterpret that?

If you have only done summer research, things will be tougher @MD2025-applicant -- @depression_is_in makes a good point. If the research has been over three academic years and three summers, though, then you're probably in good shape as that would be 2000+ hours.
@NatGeoLover @depression_is_in
I've been doing research in my PI's lab basically the whole time from freshman year onwards. I've had research experience in high school with my previous lab and I finished a project with my previous lab during the summer after freshman year. So, yes, I've been doing research continuously throughout college, not just the summers (though unfortunately, COVID caused me to leave halfway this semester and I don't think I'll be able to research this summer either). I would say I have around 3,500+ hrs, I honestly haven't kept track hourly. How concerned should I be with regard to my research productivity? Do you think the fact that I haven't gotten any pubs and only one presentation with my current lab is gonna raise eyebrows? I've contributed data to a grant application that we are currently submitting, so I didn't have the chance to publish anything yet.
 
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MD2025-applicant

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Dec 11, 2016
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4
96
  1. Pre-Medical
need ~3000 - 4000 research hours to be competitive @ MSTP

They would rather have a kid with ~3000-4000 hours and a 511 than a kid with a 522 and ~900. Source: a seminar I attended from UT-Southwestern (he said this exact thing).

Friend of mine got into Dartmouth MSTP with a 509 and a really clear and strong research vision + 3000 hours.

Just doing undergrad research might hurt- helps extremely to be involved in a lab full time for a year. Hence why so many MSTP kids are the postbags from the NIH (ie. me, but not doing MSTP)

You slayed the MCAT and stat major are going to give you an obvious edge as a scientist. Don't count on these to get you into Harvard MSTP alone- I have tons of friends (again, NIH kids) with these same stats but had trouble getting in to ANY programs because they did not have a clear research vision or enough hours. Different friend? Got in with 522 and great research vision to Penn.

So be careful with MD/PhD. It's definitely more binary than MD only (ie. they don't really care about volunteering in MSTP).... but you'll be fine if you can show your research vision + hours + publications + statistics

Thank you for your response! Could you elaborate on what the admissions look for in terms of a good research vision?
 
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931kra

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@NatGeoLover @depression_is_in
I've been doing research in my PI's lab basically the whole time from freshman year onwards. I've had research experience in high school with my previous lab and I finished a project with my previous lab during the summer after freshman year. So, yes, I've been doing research continuously throughout college, not just the summers (though unfortunately, COVID caused me to leave halfway this semester and I don't think I'll be able to research this summer either). I would say I have around 3,500+ hrs, I honestly haven't kept track hourly. How concerned should I be with regard to my research productivity? Do you think the fact that I haven't gotten any pubs and only one presentation with my current lab is gonna raise eyebrows? I've contributed data to a grant application that we are currently submitting, so I didn't have the chance to publish anything yet.
FWIW, I didn't have any publications from three years + two summers + one gap year and things worked out well for me! Productivity doesn't have to = pubs. If you're showing your commitment to research by pursuing independent projects, trying to win funding for your work (at any level, from department to national!), and communicating your results to your peers in symposia/conferences/lab meetings, you will be fine :)
 
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depression_is_in

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Thank you for your response! Could you elaborate on what the admissions look for in terms of a good research vision?


This is the most important part of applying MSTP. If you don't get the research vision, it doesn't matter what your stats are. Again, anything above a 508 + hours (and maybe+publications) + vision=acceptance

Example (loosely based off a friend)
1. I entered college interested in cancer research, and joined lab A because of this
2. my work with Lab A led me to develop a project using a zebra fish model, where I was interested in oncogene regulation as driven by cofactor X
3. after executing this work, I decided to pursue another cancer lab at (insert summer internship here).
4. Now, all of this has led me into my current role, WHERE I LIVE, EAT, AND BREATHE MY RESEARCH TOPIC. I am so determined to be at the bench and understand why mouse models regulate cofactor X with oncogene PREMD, where I am specifically interested in how cofactor X becomes inactive after I repeatedly finger my mouse's buttholes
5. At your institution, you are going to find a student who has used all of this experience to be extremely dedicated to finding the answer to a different cofactor that I have become interested in (which is still activated by butthole stimulation).

Something like that. You can't say- "oh uh duh I lika da research uh duh it is uh brain stimulating uh duh". they will take one look and realize you have no vision. lab 1 led me to-> lab 2 led me to ->lab 3 led me to-> research question 4 led me to ->hopefully investigate this very specific research topic at your university with this specific faculty member (or this specific department).

btw, it doesn't matter if you truly don't have a super specific research question for the future MD/PhD program RIGHT NOW.... but you will lie and tell them you do and then change your mind later once you start your PhD and are more knowledgeable.
 
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depression_is_in

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@NatGeoLover @depression_is_in
I've been doing research in my PI's lab basically the whole time from freshman year onwards. I've had research experience in high school with my previous lab and I finished a project with my previous lab during the summer after freshman year. So, yes, I've been doing research continuously throughout college, not just the summers (though unfortunately, COVID caused me to leave halfway this semester and I don't think I'll be able to research this summer either). I would say I have around 3,500+ hrs, I honestly haven't kept track hourly. How concerned should I be with regard to my research productivity? Do you think the fact that I haven't gotten any pubs and only one presentation with my current lab is gonna raise eyebrows? I've contributed data to a grant application that we are currently submitting, so I didn't have the chance to publish anything yet.


just saw this-
1. for research in high school, they don't really care... you can say you were inspired early on by it, but this experience was more to expose you to the field rather than give you a boost as an applicant (my opinion). Don't count this in your total research hours for applying..
2. Pubs are important for MSTP... Presentations are important... they allow you to prove that you were involved. I was never published in undergrad (~2000 hours in 2 separate labs), but now have been published ~3 times just by working full time post graduation. so us kids are automatically ahead of you as an applicant because of this measurement tool (even with an mcat like 518)

This doesn't mean you shouldn't apply. But you are going to meet people on the interview trail with a few publications (maybe even a first authorship).... and Harvard, Hopkins, Stanford, all the big dog MSTP schools will want to see publications.. take with that what you will.
 
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