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How do you decide on the type of research you want to do for your PhD?

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xcrunner01

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How did you all decide on the type of research you wanted to do for your PhD?

I'm currently doing research in an organic chemistry synthesis lab, which I really enjoy because I've always loved chemistry, but I'd also like to see what other fields are like before beginning as an MD/PhD student...perhaps immunology, cancer bio, pharmacology, or physiology. I've looked at these departments online at a few schools to get a feel for the type of research being done, and it doesn't really help too much...I find professors whose research I like in every department. Does anyone else feel as though they're just interested in too many things, and how can you narrow it down? Is it fairly common for students to be interested in multiple fields when starting out? I feel like when I submit my AMCAS I'll check practically every box when it asks you to select the PhD programs you're interested in for each school.

Also, I know that most schools have you do two years of med. school, then your PhD, so technically you should have 2 years to decide what type of research you want to do for your PhD. However, my PI got his MD/PhD and said that he began doing research for his PhD during his first semester of med. school. He's told me several times that this is what I should try to do since it helps you get through both degrees faster. While that's true, it also doesn't give you much time to explore various departments before deciding on a lab. So how common is this practice of starting your PhD research during your first year of med school vs. not starting until your third year? Does it just depend on the student, or does it also vary by school?

For those of you who are MD/PhD students who didn't join a lab right away, did you do a few lab rotations to help you decide on which lab to join?

Thanks in advance for all of your help!
 

Brunette1981

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Most MD/PhD programs require you to do rotations (generally 2-3) before selecting a lab. There are departments which are exceptions but it is uncommon. You should expect to do at least two rotations.

Also, I think it is unrealistic to think you will have time to work 20 hours a week in a lab while doing medical school. You will have time probably to do a "reading" elective where you select a lab for the upcoming summer and start to familiarize yourself with the literature and the project by talking to your future PI. Perhaps pick up a few techniques you will need to learn in advance. But don't expect to really start the project or make progress.

You can't shorten medical school. It's possible by doing fewer rotations you could do a 3 year PhD instead of 4. I'm not sure that shortening the program should be a goal going in - it's nice to finish in 7 years but it's more important to get good research training and a good publication record.

As far as picking labs, talk to older students, talk to PIs, look on the website, pick a general PhD program (like cell bio) since you may have to stay within the department for PIs. This is all advice your program will give you, don't stress about it now.
 

chemmastr

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Undergrad research, and summer research programs, should give you a good of what area you would/would not want to do. For the most part, you won't have an idea when you are in grad school and most life sciences programs have 3 lab rotations each year to help you find an area of interest. Also, some schools offer early start programs where you can opt to start in June and get an extra rotation.

When interviewing for schools, you should make sure to ask questions like these to the PIs and students at the university. Such as if they graduate students on time, and what working with the PI is like.
 
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