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DeadCactus

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I'm in my second year of UG. I'm a bit concerned because I am having a hard time finding research opportunities, especially in the field I hope to get my PhD in.

Would I be able to do pretty well in the application process with only a year of research at the time of application?

Do they want solid proof that you will be able to carry out quality research or is it more like clinical experience, where they just want evidence that you have a decent idea of what you are getting into?
 

chirurgino

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...research for MSTP apps--the more the better. There is a significant attrition rate for MSTPs once they start in the lab, even at the top programs, and that is the thing that programs hate the most. Programs will therefore want to see clear evidence that you are not a person who will yank their chain for 2 years of med school, get those 2 years paid for, then drop out and go to the wards. Your letters will need to provide concrete evidence that you are not that person (e.g. "one of the top 2-3 hardest working and most dedicated UGs to ever work in my lab")

I started working in a lab the 2nd semester of my soph year in college, continued working through graduation, took a year off to work at the NIH, and applied during that year. That being said, you should not feel like you absolutely have to get a publication out of your UG research--I didn't have one at the time I was applying--it came later--and I did fine. The more important thing is to get a very strong letter from a well-respected PI. I also wouldn't worry right now about connecting your UG research with what you might be interested in for a PhD, because that will likely change (it did for me). The crucial thing is to go to a lab where people will be willing to teach you and where you'll have the opportunity to work hard. Like anything else, you'll get out what you put in, and also like anything else, the final result will be determined more by you than by anyone else.
 

DeadCactus

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Does the kind of research matter? I mean that both in the sense of what field it is in and who is overseeing the research.

I'm an Electrical Engineering major. I want to do my PhD in Biomedical Engineering (though keeping more in the realm of electrical things: nano/micro electro mechanical devices, imaging, etc). I'm not having much luck finding a professor who has a place for me in their biomedical lab. I haven't given up yet and still have some people in mind to ask, but another opportunity arose.

There is a group of students (both UG and Grad: they have a professor acting as an adviser, just not as much direct oversight such as a PI) doing research here. Their projects revolve around aerospace engineering, but some of the people from this group are working on starting up new group. The new group will be working closely with the aerospace work, but their projects revolve around imaging and electrical engineering (topics that apply pretty well to certain areas of biomedical engineering).

I'm thinking this would be better than nothing until I can find something under a biomedical engineering professor. I'm also thinking that, because this is a new group, there will be a good opportunity to get into some leadership positions while still having the benefit of guidance of a PhD candidate, a professor acting as adviser, and an existing group.

So I guess the point of all this is: Would this sort of experience help me in getting accepted to an MSTP program? I still intend to get some sort of experience in a lab under a Biomedical Engineering PI. I'm just not sure if I should join the group and try and do something leadership wise or just forget it and devote all my energy to finding a PI who will hire me/let me volunteer with him.

Any input? Thanks for your time and sorry for the lengthy post...
 
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DeadCactus

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I just wanted to add that I do have an honest interest in the group and in helping it get started. My last post makes it sound like my only interest is building up my application which is not the case; it's just that working to improve my chances of an MSTP acceptance is a priority...
 

Circumflex

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I would think that you would want to do some research that could be applicable to biological problems. If this is not possible, then be prepared to discuss the kind of research that you would want to do for your PhD and how it would relate to your future career plans in medicine.

You should ask yourself "If I could do anything with my life and love going to work to do it, what would it be?" Engineering, medicine, or both? It sounds like you have a true love for engineering. What do you envision as a medical specialty? Electrical engineering easily fits into the obvious specialties like ortho, neuro, radiology. Other biomedical fields like tissue engineering are also options. Just be prepared to rationalize what you want to do for a PhD and how it fits into your medical goals.

Have you considered trying to find a lab at your local, med school? Even clinical departments like the ones I mentioned use engineering in basic research. That may be a better option.
 

Jorje286

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I think what they want to know is not just that you did some research, so no, you can't compare it to clinical experience. They want to see proof that you love research so much that you want to dedicate your career to it, and that you're good at it. So I guess it should be a broad experience and somewhat in depth, and probably just working with that group wouldn't be enough.

Don't give up though. I was in a similar situation last year (also in my second semester in my sophomore year), and I found out of nowhere a position, and then the opportunities started coming down by themselves. Volunteering first is your best bet, and if you show enthusiasm and hard work, they might accept you for a paid position.
 

chirurgino

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I think engineering is a great background to have in medicine, and it is definitely under-represented among physicians. You can immediately see the relevance to fields like radiology, rad onc, neurosurg, etc. Actually, every field has some sort of monitoring system or gadget that I'm sure could be improved by somebody with both an engineering and medical background.

You should just have the potential applications clear in your mind when you're applying. Also--I can't stress this enough--your main focus in UG research is to get a great letter. I don't know how your current advisor vs. PI situation plays into that, but just keep it in mind.
 

DeadCactus

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Thanks guys, you've helped a lot.

One thing I'm unclear on though; I know I need to be able to explain the relevance of my PhD aspirations in terms of my medical career, but how much detail do they expect you to have?

Do they expect you to already have a specific area of the field in mind or do they just want you to be able to explain how the field in general would mesh well with a Medical career?
 

Circumflex

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Thanks guys, you've helped a lot.

One thing I'm unclear on though; I know I need to be able to explain the relevance of my PhD aspirations in terms of my medical career, but how much detail do they expect you to have?

Do they expect you to already have a specific area of the field in mind or do they just want you to be able to explain how the field in general would mesh well with a Medical career?

I think that to be competitive, you should at least have a couple of solid paths mapped out. The better the idea you have, the better off you'll be. They know that people change their minds in school, but you should show that you have thought long and hard about your path.

As someone said, they do not want to invest in you if they are not sure that you know what you are getting in to and won't stick it out. People do drop out of the PhD portion. MSTPs are evaluated partially by the success of their graduates. You just need to have some well thought-out plans on the type of research and medical career you want.
 
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