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How to Strengthen Application for HMS/MIT

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EngineerMedic

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I just finished my second year of undergrad. I think right now is a good time to take stock of where I'm at in terms of application strength, as I still have a full year to make changes and add experiences. (Ideally I'd matriculate directly after undergrad graduation, so I'll apply between 3rd and 4th year).

Note that my top choice by far would be Harvard/MIT HST, as it's really the only place that offers an established MSTP for an engineering PhD with the aerospace ("bioastronautics") emphasis that I'm most interested in. I know that's quite a lofty goal, so I'm going to have to put in some serious work to be a competitive applicant.

Current Info:
  • 2 summers of research experience, 1 small conference presentation, middle author for ~2 (WIP) publications to be submitted in the next year
    (Total: 20 weeks x 40 hr = 800 hr) Subject: computational analysis of ecological data (not very related to my interests, but was the only real opportunity I could get after 1st year--will be applying for something different/better next summer)
  • Very little clinical experience. At this point really just volunteered total of ~10 hrs doing EKGs as part of a community heart screening program. Also (re)applying to volunteer at local hospital (rejected previously, looking for clinical volunteering opportunities elsewhere)
  • Very little shadowing experience. I'll be looking to get a few dozen hours over this summer.
  • Moderate non-clinical volunteering experience. Nothing sustained, just helping out at events here and there.
  • Misc: I teach weekly review sessions for students in entry-level biology major courses at my university. I'm also an active guide in my school's outdoor leadership program, so I plan and lead trips to take my peers into the great outdoors. If it helps, I am also an Eagle Scout (+4 palms), although I'd wager that won't be as helpful as it was in applying to undergrad :rolleyes:
  • My undergrad university is a small private school; science grads are respected in my city but overall it's not prestigious. A friend of mine that graduated this year is headed to MIT for a PhD, so acceptance at a top-tier graduate school isn't necessarily impossible.
  • GPA is currently 4.0, although next semester I will have quite a tough course-load, so it may well dip into the 3.9 range. Engineering major with minors in math and biology (cell/molecular emphasis). Unfortunately our engineering program is not great--it's more of a physics program with a few engineering classes sprinkled in here and there.
  • Plan to take MCAT spring 2019. If other previous standardized tests are any indication, I'll score pretty well. (I'm also going to take a much easier semester of classes, allowing time to study for a few months, of course.)

How should I prioritize strengthening my application? Especially in the context of a top-tier MSTP program, how do adcoms consider the relative importance of everything?
I know the big ones to hit will be clinical experience, shadowing, and non-clinical volunteering, but I'm not sure how much to prioritize each, and how much to prioritize things like getting research experience that's more related to my actual interests.
 

efc123

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A year should be good to get sufficient clinical experience/shadowing, these are not typically too hard to come by. What you should really prioritize is destroying the MCAT (pretty well may not cut it, especially if you're shooting for the tippy top) and getting more research. Ideally you'd be starting a long term experience about now so that you'd have a year of sustained research by the time you apply. Even then, a year + 2 summers is on the lower side when it comes to MSTP applicants.

How do you know you want to bioastronautics work? Do you have any experience related to it? The only reason I ask is that if you're planning on selling yourself as the "bioastronautics guy" in your apps, you should really have some experience to back it up or you might come off as naive.

As for Harvard/MIT specifically, I'll be honest its going to be really difficult. The students there have some of the most ridiculous CVs you'll ever see. Rhodes/Marshall/whatever scholars, 3+ years in high powered (HHMI/Nobel Laureate) labs with multiple high impact papers, founders of nationally recognized non profits, etc. And that's on top of the given high stats and LORs saying you are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Everything about your application has to scream "CANT MISS", and even then, it's still a dice roll. If you are really caught up on Harvard and willing/financially able, it might be more realistic to gain an MD acceptance to HMS and do the affiliate thing.

Honestly you might want to consider a gap year or two if you're dead set gunning for top 10 or something. Take a few dedicated weeks or months next summer to really make sure you get a 520+. Find some research that you really enjoy, and live it for a few years. Being truly passionate and excelling in your research will reflect in your apps and LORs, and will ultimately carry you furthest IMO.
 
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mega_

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I was waitlisted there for MD/PhD, while accepted to HST/Pathway, and withdrew without waiting for decision. I think that doing unaffiliated MD is very common there, like half of their MD/PhD class, which I thought is really weird.
I would say having some ties to Harvard or MIT really helps to get at least interview invite. I did a summer research there.

But, if you only can see yourself doing research in one place, in a very narrow topic, honestly, then why do MSTP in a first place?
Also - Emory/Georgia Tech, Colorado, UMich, UCLA/Caltech, Stanford, Ohio State all offer such PhDs.
 
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Lucca

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Sounds like you want to be an engineer so why not just do a PHD program in engineering?

If you are interested in vestibular/aerospace medicine Baylor is also a good choice. I think Mayo Clinic also has a dedicated research area to it. USC/CalTech might also be a good choice.

HMS/MIT is the most competitive graduate program in the world. To be competitive you have to be more than excellent in every category. It’s not practical to set all of your hopes on such a slim thing. Almost a quarter of HMS/MIT MD/PhDs are Harvard undergrad. That’s the kind of place it is.
 
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Neuronix

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But, if you only can see yourself doing research in one place, in a very narrow topic, honestly, then why do MSTP in a first place?
Also - Emory/Georgia Tech, Colorado, UMich, UCLA/Caltech, Stanford, Ohio State all offer such PhDs.

I agree with this post.

I personally know a very smart man who did a 13 year HMS/MIT MD/PhD program followed by the usual residency and fellowship. Last time I checked he was unemployed. I wouldn't wish a 13 year program on anyone. Maybe it's better now.

The point of my post is that all that glitters isn't gold and you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket.
 
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EngineerMedic

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Thanks for all the advice! Yes, I understand that getting into HMS/MIT is hard. But since it's the best program for what I want to do, that's the standard I want to attempt to meet (kind of a "shoot for the stars and at least hit the moon" type of idea).

But, if you only can see yourself doing research in one place, in a very narrow topic, honestly, then why do MSTP in a first place?

Also - Emory/Georgia Tech, Colorado, UMich, UCLA/Caltech, Stanford, Ohio State all offer such PhDs.
I want to do MSTP because I want to work at the intersection of medicine and research science. Even though the particular topic of science I want to work on is pretty niche, it is still interrelated enough with medicine that I think MSTP is ideal.
Notes on the list of schools you mentioned:
  • (I am actually considering many of them, I just mentioned HMS/MIT in the OP because if I'm competitive there then I'll definitely be competitive at all these other places!)
  • Emory/Georgia Tech, UMich, Stanford, Ohio State - don't offer any emphasis in aerospace medicine, AFAIK. Although they would be good backup schools if all else fails, since I could (in theory) do medical school and aerospace engineering research. But not as focused on the topics I would prefer.
  • UCLA/Caltech is a good option (definitely on the table), albeit less preferred than HMS/MIT for the same reason as Colorado...
  • Colorado - one of the greatest aerospace schools. But when I emailed to their program director, it seems like nobody there has ever done MSTP with the PhD in their aerospace department. Following the advice of a wise SDN'er...
MD/PhD programs aren't great places to be the first. Much better to go through a program with an established track record. [...] being a guinea pig is not great.
So Colorado and UCLA/Caltech are definitely on my list, but HMS/MIT is vastly preferred because it has an established MD/PhD program for students in aerospace medical engineering.

Sounds like you want to be an engineer so why not just do a PHD program in engineering?

I want to do medical engineering research for aerospace medicine--that's why I think MSTP is the best route for me. The PhD alone would be good and I would enjoy it, but I think MSTP would be better.

I personally know a very smart man who did a 13 year HMS/MIT MD/PhD program followed by the usual residency and fellowship. Last time I checked he was unemployed. I wouldn't wish a 13 year program on anyone. Maybe it's better now.

Hm, that's interesting. I'll do some digging on recent graduates of the particular training program there and see if this is a common problem: it would be a major red flag.

The point of my post is that all that glitters isn't gold and you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket.

That's excellent advice, and I totally agree. I will definitely apply elsewhere too: I don't want to get my hopes up all on one thing, and there are other options (i.e: Colorado, UCLA/Caltech) where I can get a pretty close approximation to the HMS/MIT program if I am deliberate in putting in a little extra legwork. I just mentioned this program in the OP because if I prepare for it, then I'm automatically prepared for pretty much any other school.

----------

However, all these replies considered, it sounds like in terms of applying to HMS/MIT, everything is top priority. I am beginning to suspect that I'll need a gap year though... if I'm going to have to take the time to dominate the MCAT next spring, that won't leave as much time to polish up the rest of my profile. Maybe taking an extra year to do more in-depth and focused research, and some more clinical experience on the side, would be my best bet.

...Thoughts?
 

grizzly1093

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Yes, I understand that getting into HMS/MIT is hard.
Emory/Georgia Tech, UMich, Stanford, Ohio State ... would be good backup schools ...
UCLA/Caltech is a good option (definitely on the table), albeit less preferred than HMS/MIT for the same reason as Colorado...

Getting into any MSTP, including your backup options, is hard. It's good to shoot for the stars, as you've mentioned, but you should be incredibly proud to receive an offer from any MSTP. All of the programs mentioned here are among the most competitive graduate programs in the world. The majority of successful applicants to such programs have MCAT 520+ and 1-2+ years of full time postgrad research.

You also mentioned that you go to a small university that is not "prestigious." Take a look at the Harvard MD/PhD student directory, and you'll notice that the majority come from "top" schools. Those from lesser known schools likely spent a good amount of time in labs at "top" institutions. (If my impression from the interview trail is to be believed, this is also the case for your "backup" programs.)

This is all to say--to maximize your chances at *any* of the places you've mentioned, you need extended, full-time research at the most prestigious place possible. The importance (bordering on necessity) of this has been verified in conversations I've had with two adcoms from top MSTPs.

And for Harvard specifically (as @efc123 mentioned), they value the extraordinary. The newsworthy. The students who are already making waves in one way or another. If you want a shot, you need to set yourself apart in a crazy and creative way. You have time--in all seriousness, start thinking about how you can start a company, invent something, develop an app, apply for prestigious fellowships...something. Hopefully you know some faculty who can help you.

I want to do MSTP because I want to work at the intersection of medicine and research science....
I want to do medical engineering research for aerospace medicine...

Do you want to care for patients?

However, all these replies considered, it sounds like in terms of applying to HMS/MIT, everything is top priority. I am beginning to suspect that I'll need a gap year though... if I'm going to have to take the time to dominate the MCAT next spring, that won't leave as much time to polish up the rest of my profile. Maybe taking an extra year to do more in-depth and focused research, and some more clinical experience on the side, would be my best bet.

...Thoughts?

I think you've hit the nail on the head. Dominating the MCAT is important for any MSTP. A gap year(s) is, I think, becoming a near-necessity. And, as mentioned earlier, you probably need to spend time in "top" places if you haven't already. If you do these things--in addition to the typical volunteering and clinical hours--then you'll set yourself up well. I hope you get in where you want, but remember, getting into any MSTP is incredible!
 
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EngineerMedic

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Do you want to care for patients?
Yes.
This is all to say--to maximize your chances at *any* of the places you've mentioned, you need extended, full-time research at the most prestigious place possible. The importance (bordering on necessity) of this has been verified in conversations I've had with two adcoms from top MSTPs.

And for Harvard specifically (as @efc123 mentioned), they value the extraordinary. The newsworthy. The students who are already making waves in one way or another. If you want a shot, you need to set yourself apart in a crazy and creative way. You have time--in all seriousness, start thinking about how you can start a company, invent something, develop an app, apply for prestigious fellowships...something. Hopefully you know some faculty who can help you.

I think you've hit the nail on the head. Dominating the MCAT is important for any MSTP. A gap year(s) is, I think, becoming a near-necessity. And, as mentioned earlier, you probably need to spend time in "top" places if you haven't already. If you do these things--in addition to the typical volunteering and clinical hours--then you'll set yourself up well.

Thank you. This is great, actionable advice. It looks like my best choice is going to be something like this:
  1. (3rd year spring) Absolutely own the MCAT. Earn that 99th percentile.
  2. (3rd year summer) Research/Intern at a top institution. Bonus points if it's actually at HMS or MIT.
  3. Start an NGO or something to that effect.
  4. (Gap year or two) Full time research at a top institution. Bonus points if it's actually at HMS or MIT.
Along the way, pick up volunteering and clinical experience as much and as varied as I can.
 
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Lucca

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Volunteering and clinical experience are not so important for MD/PhD as MD. Tick the boxes, get a 520+ MCAT, and have impressive enough research experience that people think giving you a PhD is just a formality (high impact pubs, international /national conferences, letters that say you’re amazing). Number one priority in all of this is research, never forget that. The MCAT is a close second.

Ideally you went to Harvard and Co. (TM) for Undergrad, won a Goldwater and a Churchill (and a Beckman too, why not) and win a Rhodes/Marshall/Gates for your 2 gap years where you work for Best Person Ever who loves you. You publish a first author paper in Nature or Science. In your spare time you play first chair violin in the uni orchestra, captain a sports team, and write science books for children and run a science summer camp. Sound intimidating? Good, because that person literally exists and they went to HMS/MIT and are a resident now at one of the Harvard hospitals.

Is everyone at HMS like that? I know for a fact that they aren’t because i know a couple of them. The point is that you need the whole package.

If you have a genuine passion for this goal of yours then it should be about the work and not the place. Do everything you can to further your passion NOW and the rest will probably fall into place as you go along if you are very lucky, work hard, and surround yourself with people who support, mentor, and believe in you. Don’t wait to get into the right place to do the things or research you want.
 
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ClassyTardigrade

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OP, if you do not get into HMS, but into another program you have mentioned, will you go?
 

EngineerMedic

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OP, if you do not get into HMS, but into another program you have mentioned, will you go?

Yes, of course! HMS/MIT might be the top of my list, but they're not the only program on it. I won't apply somewhere unless I am genuinely willing to go there.
 

spoopydoopy

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It's important not to mysticize these places too much. You shouldn't see winning a Rhodes/Marshall/etc. or having a first-author Nature paper as a requirement for getting into Harvard/MIT, and doing so will probably be pretty counterproductive to developing genuine interests and narrative as an aspiring physician scientist. Of course everyone featured on the website looks like a superstar - that's the point of that page.

I would focus less on the idea of having a dazzling CV and more on being able to communicate and demonstrate how a given program provides the best fit for you. As others have pointed out, if you want to aim for bioastronautics, you better have some pretty significant research experience in that field. If you're at a small university without relevant opportunities, I 100% agree that you should knock out two birds with one stone and apply for REUs at top tier places (the best for your goals will be at Harvard or MIT). You also need to have your reasons for MD/PhD locked down, genuine, and backed up by clear evidence of you investing in this intersection between medicine and research. Anyone can quote an MSTP's mission back at an interviewer - it's obviously better to have your CV say it for you.

I'm happy to talk over messages if you want a clearer example of a successful application without the above mentioned superstar feats.
 
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dl2dp2

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Most of the above advice is really not helpful IMHO. Some asks you what will help you get into Harvard, you tell them 1) don't bother trying into get into Harvard 2) get a Rhode scholarship. wtf is that? Not helpful at all.

The real honest truth is that if you want to get into HST when you have nothing special going on, the only thing that would enhance your chance is relationship.

You need connections there, and the more powerful it is, the more likely it'll get you in. As to exactly how to create relationship out of thin air, there's no real recipe for it. It also involves a decent amount of risk. A lot relationship is created not because of effort or merit but because of political power play. The way in which these relationships are created can make it less likely for you to get in. It is also possible that you might have to do things that compromise your ethics. But if you are willing to do whatever it takes to get to HST, then perhaps that's something you should think about. Maybe you need to go work there, suck the deans dick while he's drunk (and I mean this figuratively, mostly) and then black mail him after. You'd be surprised how often things of this type happen. On the other hand, by doing this maneuver you might ruin your chance altogether. This is what I mean by risk.

It's also very expensive. People often retain consultants for this, and if I were in your position I would do that as well. It also takes years of preparation. Have you visited Boston yet? Have you talked to people there yet? Are you a *known* person to the HST admissions committee?

And do not for a second believe that once you arrive at HST you'd end up becoming an aerospace medicine expert. For every David Ho out there, there are dozens of mediocre rad oncs who decide to make the $$ only to discover the job market is a beast. Just being honest. That relationship building exercise is just the START of the whole rest of your life, when the importance of subject matter knowledge pales in comparison to that of relationships.
 
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who_dis_new_phone

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Most of the above advice is really not helpful IMHO. Some asks you what will help you get into Harvard, you tell them 1) don't bother trying into get into Harvard 2) get a Rhode scholarship. wtf is that? Not helpful at all.

The real honest truth is that if you want to get into HST when you have nothing special going on, the only thing that would enhance your chance is relationship.

You need connections there, and the more powerful it is, the more likely it'll get you in. As to exactly how to create relationship out of thin air, there's no real recipe for it. It also involves a decent amount of risk. A lot relationship is created not because of effort or merit but because of political power play. The way in which these relationships are created can make it less likely for you to get in. It is also possible that you might have to do things that compromise your ethics. But if you are willing to do whatever it takes to get to HST, then perhaps that's something you should think about. Maybe you need to go work there, suck the deans dick while he's drunk (and I mean this figuratively, mostly) and then black mail him after. You'd be surprised how often things of this type happen. On the other hand, by doing this maneuver you might ruin your chance altogether. This is what I mean by risk.

It's also very expensive. People often retain consultants for this, and if I were in your position I would do that as well. It also takes years of preparation. Have you visited Boston yet? Have you talked to people there yet? Are you a *known* person to the HST admissions committee?

And do not for a second believe that once you arrive at HST you'd end up becoming an aerospace medicine expert. For every David Ho out there, there are dozens of mediocre rad oncs who decide to make the $$ only to discover the job market is a beast. Just being honest. That relationship building exercise is just the START of the whole rest of your life, when the importance of subject matter knowledge pales in comparison to that of relationships.

How to Get Into Harvard by Sluox:

"Step 1: Sexually assault the dean.
Step 2: Blackmail the dean into accepting you.

This works all the time at my institution!"

This wise advice should be included in Neuronix's thread lol.
 

smithers12

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"HMS is vastly preferred because it has an established program... unlike UCLA/Caltech"



man, this thread is a piece of work. am i the only one convinced that this is a troll thread?
 
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