If Unable to Get MD/PhD or if Unable to Find One in Your Field, PhD During Leave of Absence?

ShinySephiroth

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Hello! I know it varies from institution to institution, so generally how receptive and "easy" is it to get authorization to pursue a PhD during a leave of absence between MS2 and MS3? Outside of the competitiveness of MD/PhD programs, another real problem (at least for me) is having PhD interests that are not traditional for this pathway, so most institutions do not have a place for such a candidate.

Any help is greatly appreciated!
 

Dave1980

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Not easy at all. Especially if your interest is not traditional.

OP: I want to take 4 years off to get a PhD in Pottery/Art/English/History
Admin: WTF? No.
 
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ShinySephiroth

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Not easy at all. Especially if your interest is not traditional.

OP: I want to take 4 years off to get a PhD in Pottery/Art/English/History
Admin: WTF? No.
Haha, I should have been more specific! The two areas I am most interested in aren't basic sciences (biostatistics/population health sciences and exercise science). There are some programs with them but by and large they aren't as common. And if I happen to get accepted MD-only to a program that does have the PhD I am interested in, how feasible is it to get a LoA for a medically/scientifically related PhD?
 
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ValentinNarcisse

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Pretty easy, the medical school will not care what you do with your time outside the curriculum. But this would be a MD/PhD outside of a funded MSTP which means you would assume full costs of your medical school training.
 
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ShinySephiroth

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Pretty easy, the medical school will not care what you do with your time outside the curriculum. But this would be a MD/PhD outside of a funded MSTP which means you would assume full costs of your medical school training.
That is the one bummer, but I mean... it is essentially like being the top of the class and getting a full-ride scholarship. If I can't get into an MD/PhD or fully funded MSTP, I understand that it is extremely competitive and that I wasn't the top of the top to earn such a "scholarship". I still see the benefits, especially for someone not naturally gifted like myself, to receive the training "during" medical school as opposed to trying the MD/Postdoc route, so even if I have to do a DIY MD/PhD, that is the path I am shooting for... if that makes sense?

I'm glad to see some feedback that it shouldn't be too hard. My n=2 so far, so hoping for some more feedback! LOL
 

Serac

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Pretty easy at my program and not uncommon, we have students do a PhD both in house and at other institutions.
Also, I think a good number of MD/PhD programs would support you doing a biostats or exercise phys. thesis. They may not have standalone tracks, but could support you and get you the appropriate courses/mentors as needed. Feel free to pm me for more details.
 
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Naruhodo

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We had at least one student who started in the regular MD program, and then during the first year of medical school successfully applied into the MD/PhD track. This was a pretty exceptional student, and I guess they lucked out that there was room/ funding for them to join the MSTP cohort. I wouldn't bother asking too much about this possibility before enrolling somewhere (places probably won't know until there MSTP cohort shakes out whether they could accommodate you) but might be an argument for trying to go somewhere that does have funded MSTP positions (these also tend to be stronger research institutions).

In terms of doing a PhD during a LOA, there is the issues of paying for the MD (as others have pointed out) but there's also sometimes time limits for low long someone can take to complete the degree. 5 years is no problem (lots of students take some extra time for research) but I believe once you start getting into the more than 6 year territory you have to have received an additional degree though a sanctioned pathway (which may apply to you). Just a heads up that it may not be super easy to take out a 4 year chunk of time (and also if your not officially in an MSTP no guarantees that a program will get you through that quickly given that the average biomedical PhD in the US currently takes 6.5 years). Nothings impossible though, so best of luck as you pursue your training interests.
 
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ShinySephiroth

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Pretty easy at my program and not uncommon, we have students do a PhD both in house and at other institutions.
Also, I think a good number of MD/PhD programs would support you doing a biostats or exercise phys. thesis. They may not have standalone tracks, but could support you and get you the appropriate courses/mentors as needed. Feel free to pm me for more details.
Thank you, and will do! And thanks for the additional background - I only have one med school in my state so my knowledge of how other MD/PhD programs work is limited to my online research and what my state does.

In my conversations with my state school, I did ask them if I could do exercise science if I were lucky enough to matriculate into their MD/PhD program and they told me that I would not be able to do that. Maybe it is because it is not an MSTP, but a still fully-funded MD/PhD? They do have a Population Health Sciences PhD, though, so I'd 100% do that (if I had the choice between the two, I'd probably still pick PHS).

We had at least one student who started in the regular MD program, and then during the first year of medical school successfully applied into the MD/PhD track. This was a pretty exceptional student, and I guess they lucked out that there was room/ funding for them to join the MSTP cohort. I wouldn't bother asking too much about this possibility before enrolling somewhere (places probably won't know until there MSTP cohort shakes out whether they could accommodate you) but might be an argument for trying to go somewhere that does have funded MSTP positions (these also tend to be stronger research institutions).

In terms of doing a PhD during a LOA, there is the issues of paying for the MD (as others have pointed out) but there's also sometimes time limits for low long someone can take to complete the degree. 5 years is no problem (lots of students take some extra time for research) but I believe once you start getting into the more than 6 year territory you have to have received an additional degree though a sanctioned pathway (which may apply to you). Just a heads up that it may not be super easy to take out a 4 year chunk of time (and also if your not officially in an MSTP no guarantees that a program will get you through that quickly given that the average biomedical PhD in the US currently takes 6.5 years). Nothings impossible though, so best of luck as you pursue your training interests.
My state school was the one who told me about the possibility of applying as an MS1 or even MS2, saying that due to my research experience but because of my non-competitive uGPA that I'd have a tough time getting accepted as a pre-med applicant but a much stronger chance once in medical school. So my current plan of attack is as follows:

a) apply MD/PhD and if not accepted but I matriculate into an MD,
b) apply MD/PhD as MS1 and if not accepted,
c) apply MD/PhD as MS2 and if not accepted,
d) request to do a PhD as a LoA between MS2 and MS3, and if that is rejected,
e) apply for a PhD granting residency, and if I don't match,
f) apply for a PhD program toward the end of residency

As for the timeline to complete one, if I do a LoA then (since I would not have yet graduated from the MD program) I am under the understanding that some of my MD courses could be applied toward the extracurricular credits needed to complete the PhD. Further, the two specific Population Health Science PhDs I have looked at that are attached to MD/PhD programs have completion times averaging three years (they lower the amount of credits needed for those who already have masters degrees so that most of the time is working on research and being a TA). If I go the exercise science route, though, I can see the danger of approaching the 5 year threshold for certain.

Thank you so much for the great information and well-wishes! *crosses fingers*
 
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biobukowski

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Thank you, and will do! And thanks for the additional background - I only have one med school in my state so my knowledge of how other MD/PhD programs work is limited to my online research and what my state does.

In my conversations with my state school, I did ask them if I could do exercise science if I were lucky enough to matriculate into their MD/PhD program and they told me that I would not be able to do that. Maybe it is because it is not an MSTP, but a still fully-funded MD/PhD? They do have a Population Health Sciences PhD, though, so I'd 100% do that (if I had the choice between the two, I'd probably still pick PHS).


My state school was the one who told me about the possibility of applying as an MS1 or even MS2, saying that due to my research experience but because of my non-competitive uGPA that I'd have a tough time getting accepted as a pre-med applicant but a much stronger chance once in medical school. So my current plan of attack is as follows:

a) apply MD/PhD and if not accepted but I matriculate into an MD,
b) apply MD/PhD as MS1 and if not accepted,
c) apply MD/PhD as MS2 and if not accepted,
d) request to do a PhD as a LoA between MS2 and MS3, and if that is rejected,
e) apply for a PhD granting residency, and if I don't match,
f) apply for a PhD program toward the end of residency

As for the timeline to complete one, if I do a LoA then (since I would not have yet graduated from the MD program) I am under the understanding that some of my MD courses could be applied toward the extracurricular credits needed to complete the PhD. Further, the two specific Population Health Science PhDs I have looked at that are attached to MD/PhD programs have completion times averaging three years (they lower the amount of credits needed for those who already have masters degrees so that most of the time is working on research and being a TA). If I go the exercise science route, though, I can see the danger of approaching the 5 year threshold for certain.

Thank you so much for the great information and well-wishes! *crosses fingers*

I would ask about time limitations. Residencies will ask if you took time off in medical school and you’ll have to explain it. Also, USMLEs expire after a certain time, unless you are in a combined track. If the degrees are independent I am not sure how that would go...
It is also a matter of grant funding. F type fellowships also have a time limit for straight PhDs which is larger for MD/PhDs due to the additional medical school years.
 
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ShinySephiroth

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I would ask about time limitations. Residencies will ask if you took time off in medical school and you’ll have to explain it. Also, USMLEs expire after a certain time, unless you are in a combined track. If the degrees are independent I am not sure how that would go...
It is also a matter of grant funding. F type fellowships also have a time limit for straight PhDs which is larger for MD/PhDs due to the additional medical school years.
Thank you! These are nuisances I don't know really anything about. I am most interested in population health/biostats style PhDs and it looks like those can be done (in combo with already having a masters degree and transferring credits from the MD since I would not have yet graduated) in an average of 3 years (at least the two PhD programs I have looked into and spoken to). I did a Google search right now and it says Step 1 is valid for 7 years, so worst case scenario I take 4 years to do a pop sci PhD, then MS3 before applying for residencies during MS4 so I'd still have a couple of years... but yeah, that is a tight schedule. Thank you very much for pointing that out. It is definitely something I will need to take into account.
 

biobukowski

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Thank you! These are nuisances I don't know really anything about. I am most interested in population health/biostats style PhDs and it looks like those can be done (in combo with already having a masters degree and transferring credits from the MD since I would not have yet graduated) in an average of 3 years (at least the two PhD programs I have looked into and spoken to). I did a Google search right now and it says Step 1 is valid for 7 years, so worst case scenario I take 4 years to do a pop sci PhD, then MS3 before applying for residencies during MS4 so I'd still have a couple of years... but yeah, that is a tight schedule. Thank you very much for pointing that out. It is definitely something I will need to take into account.

U of Minnesota MSTP has Epidemiology PhD students—worth looking into!
 
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biobukowski

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In my conversations with my state school, I did ask them if I could do exercise science if I were lucky enough to matriculate into their MD/PhD program and they told me that I would not be able to do that.

PhD is not like other degrees. Doing “Exercise Science” is not about classes or preparation in that discipline but the research itself. If you are in a PhD for Physiology, and your mentor is doing exercise science, that is still a PhD in physiology where you made a thesis regarding exercise physiology. I would suggest you read up on how PhD training is. Mostly, the coursework and the name of the training program is minor compared to your research.
MSTPs are not limited by state admissions so don’t limit yourself to a place. But do find out who you would want to do the PhD with, in terms of advisors.
 
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ShinySephiroth

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PhD is not like other degrees. Doing “Exercise Science” is not about classes or preparation in that discipline but the research itself. If you are in a PhD for Physiology, and your mentor is doing exercise science, that is still a PhD in physiology where you made a thesis regarding exercise physiology. I would suggest you read up on how PhD training is. Mostly, the coursework and the name of the training program is minor compared to your research.
MSTPs are not limited by state admissions so don’t limit yourself to a place. But do find out who you would want to do the PhD with, in terms of advisors.
Yes, thank you I did misspeak. I meant to say they told me I couldn't do one in the Department of Exercise Science! And I honestly thought that my research interest would be too niche to even consider that perhaps I'd get a PI who would look at my interests... but you're right! Never know unless you try!
 

biobukowski

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Yes, thank you I did misspeak. I meant to say they told me I couldn't do one in the Department of Exercise Science! And I honestly thought that my research interest would be too niche to even consider that perhaps I'd get a PI who would look at my interests... but you're right! Never know unless you try!

The question is not as important as the mentor and the research. Be flexible! For example, I went to my MSTP with research experience in a specific part of a larger field. If I only wanted to look at at T cell expression of glycoproteins to facilitate movement from bone marrow to thymus, I would have never finished my PhD in time. Instead, I did a project looking at T cell function and lymphopenia after sepsis. Even then I wanted to use Staphylococcus to test function after the primary insult, but Candida Albicans, influenza, listeria and herpes were in our protocol. It was still a good thesis and 4 papers in 3 years, and now COVID has made it relevant (several people in the field have quoted my papers!). So TLDR: be flexible in what you want to look at, and in how you’ll join the field, and you will get where you want to go.
 
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