MD/PhD Research

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warenb

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Hello,

I'm an upcoming junior in undergrad and I'm a psychology major hoping to pursue an MD/PhD. I was wondering about the necessary research experience to apply for the program. Does psychology research look just as good as biomedical research or do I need to definitely do a lab or two in the biomedical sciences? Thanks!

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Nanorust

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Applying MD/PhD for 2016, so grain of salt, etc.
The topic or field is less important than your ability to speak passionately about your research and show that you developed the ability to think like an independent researcher. If a psychology lab will open the opportunity for you to ask and answer your own questions just as easily as a biomedical science lab, then work in whichever you are more passionate about. This is especially true if one of the labs only offers undergrads two years of dish washing and fish feeding.

The other important piece from your research is the letter of recommendation. Assuming you give your recommender only good things to say, showing off your ability to think and act like a mature researcher will help you significantly more in the application process than washing the proverbial dishes in any field.

If you are worried about going into the PhD in another area and being lost around the new techniques and literature, look into summer research programs in different fields. In my case, I have done my undergrad work in a genetics lab, but spent a summer doing synthesis in a physical chemistry lab. You could easily do the same with any combination of bench work and psychology to get varied experience.

All that being said, Adcoms vary. Picking a lab near the field in which you want to end up will never be a bad thing, while working too far outside your PhD interest may be seen as a red flag that you aren't committed to your field. And if you want other opinions, check out the physician scientist board where questions like this crop up periodically.
 

warenb

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That helps, thank you so much! I want to go into either the psychology PhD or neuroscience, which is why I really want to continue research around those areas.
 
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ladyterp

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I'll be entering an MD/PhD program this summer. I was a Psyc undergrad, and quite a bit of my research was in psyc. I did some preclinical research with mice as well. I'm intending to do my PHD in neuroscience. I think nanorust offers good advice--do the research that you're passionate about where you have an opportunity to take ownership of a project. I'm happy to discuss more over pm if you have more specific questions. I'd also check out the Physician Scientists section of this board.
 

URHere

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A couple of points:

1) There is an entire "physician scientist" forum section filled with MD/PhDs. You should check it out.

2) It is important to know what type of PhD you are planning to pursue. If you want a humanities PhD (e.g. psych), know that those are offered by only a handful of programs and that many also require the GRE. If you want a basic science PhD (e.g. neuro), it may raise a few eyebrows if you have no basic science research experience. Note that by "research experience", I mean long-term (2-3 year) work with a research lab where you hopefully cultivate an independent project and take it to some sort of conclusion (poster, paper, talk, etc). Labs associated with science classes do not count as "research experience" as far as MD/PhD programs are concerned. This is true regardless of what type of PhD you pursue - you will need significant research experience outside of the classroom.
 

NickNaylor

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The research expected of MSTP applicants is substantially more than that "expected" of straight MD applicants. This isn't the kind of thing where a summer research program will suffice. You will be expected to have at least a couple of years of research experience that is somewhat independent. Having the experience of presenting and disseminating your work is a plus. Many MSTP applicants that I've reviewed have a year of research experience as a tech or in a master's program. In terms of what you want to do research in, you'll almost certainly want something in the biomedical arena as that is what you'll likely be pursuing as an MSTP student. Note that the MSTP program will look down upon humanities research or anything that isn't in the biomedical sciences. Research in those areas is not the goal of the program. As mentioned above, some institutions (mine included) offer programs that are effectively the MSTP program but offer PhDs in areas outside the biomedical sciences, but they are relatively rare.
 
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