NervousNerd

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The more and more I toy with the idea of immersing myself in the research haven of Bethesda NIH I want too.

Can anyone give me some insightful information about the program? Any previous NIH IRTA's with medical school success?

Background: I have a strong research focus. 1 pub, 2nd in progress both in mechanistic organic chemistry. Starting new project this spring in cellular biology.
I would like to move to my biology roots while at the NIH and study ROS and mitochondrial mutations. I LOVE research and everything about it.

Tell me the good the bad and the ugly about the program! GO
 

Reckoner

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Like anything in research, your experience largely depends on your PI and the lab you work in. My favorite part of the program has been the wealth of invited speakers, seminars, symposia, etc. Almost every day there is the chance to go hear some big name scientist talk about their work. There are also graduate courses and training programs you can take. The actual work itself isn't really any different from what you might do as a research associate in a lab at a university, although obviously it's extremely PI-dependent and can range from running your own project to glorified tech work. Another great thing about the NIH is the sheer number of highly productive labs. I worked in a small unproductive lab as an undergrad, so finding a lab that regularly publishes was important to me, and there are a ton of options here.
The "bad" of the program is the low pay. 27k is not a lot in Bethesda/NW DC (VERY expensive area). It's definitely doable, but you'll have to work to find somewhat affordable housing. Also the application is a bit of a pain.
Overall, I've had a very positive experience as an IRTA, and I definitely recommend the program.
ETA: one other benefit - your contract requires that you apply to graduate school of some kind, so they are very flexible with days off for interviews!
 
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NervousNerd

NervousNerd

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Like anything in research, your experience largely depends on your PI...
Thank you for the response! If I may ask, are you in a 1 or 2 year contract? I am looking at the 1 year.

Second, how is Bethesda life? I have never personally been and I do understand that the stipend is minimal for an expensive city.

As you did, I would love to be in a productive lab. This will most likely be a major question I have to ask PI's during an interview.
 

Reckoner

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No problem! I'm doing a one year contract, which is relatively rare. Many PIs only want two year IRTAs, just so you know. Bethesda is alright. Kind of generic and boring, but very pleasant. I like DC a lot though! If you're looking for cheaper housing, you're probably going to have to live farther out in Maryland (white flint, Grosvenor, shady grove, etc).
Asking about publications is good, but make sure you ask if they regularly have IRTAs publish. This is a decent indicator of how much responsibility the PI is willing to give their postbaccs.
 
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Feb 24, 2013
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I'm doing a two-year stint as an IRTA and I agree with pretty much everything Reckoner said, although my experience hasn't been as uniformly positive because I was naive about the importance of lab culture when I chose my lab. There is a huge variation between labs and the roles they have for IRTAs. You need to consider the lab culture critically, as much or more than the research really. You can have a good experience in a lab with a friendly productive culture even if the research isn't 100% what you want to do, but if the lab culture is toxic then it won't matter how interesting your research topic is. You should talk to other IRTAs in the lab before you commit to one, and don't join a lab where you will be the only IRTA. I haven't had a great experience because I am in a very small lab with an inexperienced PI who is a poor manager. I would highly highly recommend you choose a lab that has a large group of other IRTAs because it will give you a better social environment, a better defined role in the lab, and a greater chance to be successful overall.

I would have been better off if I had prioritized choosing a lab with a history of good experiences from IRTAs. That said, there is no better place to pursue your research than NIH. The concentration of resources and talent here is amazing. It has definitely helped me in interviews!
 
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Reckoner

Lacks theology and geometry
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I'm doing a two-year stint as an IRTA and I agree with pretty much everything Reckoner said, although my experience hasn't been as uniformly positive because I was naive about the importance of lab culture when I chose my lab. There is a huge variation between labs and the roles they have for IRTAs. You need to consider the lab culture critically, as much or more than the research really. You can have a good experience in a lab with a friendly productive culture even if the research isn't 100% what you want to do, but if the lab culture is toxic then it won't matter how interesting your research topic is. You should talk to other IRTAs in the lab before you commit to one, and don't join a lab where you will be the only IRTA. I haven't had a great experience because I am in a very small lab with an inexperienced PI who is a poor manager. I would highly highly recommend you choose a lab that has a large group of other IRTAs because it will give you a better social environment, a better defined role in the lab, and a greater chance to be successful overall.

I would have been better off if I had prioritized choosing a lab with a history of good experiences from IRTAs. That said, there is no better place to pursue your research than NIH. The concentration of resources and talent here is amazing. It has definitely helped me in interviews!
I couldn't agree more. I'm in a lab right now that does work somewhat unrelated to my interests, but the people I work with are awesome. OP, you should also ask any PI you interview with if they will let you speak with people in their lab, especially current IRTAs.
 
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NervousNerd

NervousNerd

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Good comments guys! Thank you for the critiques and notes!
 

smuscs

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I was fortunate enough to get into a lab where I have a lot of responsibility as well as the ability to explore my interests in the lab. Unfortunately, I am in a lab that does not publish very often. I am having a great experience and I really like everyone that works in my lab. The amount of resources available at the NIH is amazing. The pay is not very high and therefore I have picked up a second job to help pay off undergrad loans.

As for Bethesda/DC, it is an expensive area but there is a ton to do and it is very nice. I live a little north of Bethesda and am saving a lot of money on rent. Live within walking distance of the red line so you can metro into downtown Bethesda or DC very easily and you will be happy.
 
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NervousNerd

NervousNerd

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I was fortunate enough to get into a lab where I have a lot of responsibility as well as the ability to explore my interests in the lab. Unfortunately, I am in a lab that does not publish very often. I am having a great experience and I really like everyone that works in my lab. The amount of resources available at the NIH is amazing. The pay is not very high and therefore I have picked up a second job to help pay off undergrad loans.

As for Bethesda/DC, it is an expensive area but there is a ton to do and it is very nice. I live a little north of Bethesda and am saving a lot of money on rent. Live within walking distance of the red line so you can metro into downtown Bethesda or DC very easily and you will be happy.
Did you find the interviews very good for determining who a good PI would be?

Also, what is a large hospital down there? Either Bethesda or DC. I would like to continue volunteering while working as much as possible.
 

histidine

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There are plenty of large hospitals in the DC region, but all are overwhelmed by premeds. It will be difficult independently finding a volunteer spot. Join the yahoo group "club PCR." It's the postbac group. Lots of volunteer positions get posted there and it's your best resource to finding nearly anything you need.

Interviews are mediocre for determining good PIs. Talk to a current postbac in the lab, but keep in mind that it is often their job to recruit, so they may not be completely honest about the pros and cons of the lab.

Did you find the interviews very good for determining who a good PI would be?

Also, what is a large hospital down there? Either Bethesda or DC. I would like to continue volunteering while working as much as possible.
 

smuscs

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Did you find the interviews very good for determining who a good PI would be?

Also, what is a large hospital down there? Either Bethesda or DC. I would like to continue volunteering while working as much as possible.
As stated above, there are many hospitals in the region. The NIH has its own clinical facility that premed friends of mine have volunteered at. There is also the Walter Reed hospital (military hospital), a hospital in Bethesda (Suburban hospital) and a few in DC such as Washington Hospital Center and the Georgetown and GW hospitals. However, finding a spot will be tough as tons of premeds are trying to get involved. I decided to volunteer with a Hospice in Montgomery County instead of the hospital because there were no positions open.
 

histidine

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Regarding pros and cons, when you get offers from various labs, be a bit aggressive in what you want to get out of the lab. You already have pubs, which is more than most entering postbacs (and exiting postbacs), so you'll be a hot commodity to PIs. Make sure you demand a clear, independent project, or at least a project where you work side-by-side with a postdoc where you will be second author. Many PIs see postbacs as cheap lab techs, so make sure you don't get stuck in that kind of position. Many PIs are also too busy to actually mentor you and get to know you, which is very important for a letter of rec.

Everyone I know has been successful in getting into med school. The NIH name definitely carries weight, but don't rely on it to open doors.
 

christachristaj

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Does anyone know whether the IRTA program allows participants to work for appointments other than 1 year increments (as in, could I work in a lab for 18 months instead of a 2 full years). I am asking because with timeline I have in mind for enrolling in med school, I would have more than a year to work in a lab, but less than 2.
 
Feb 24, 2013
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Does anyone know whether the IRTA program allows participants to work for appointments other than 1 year increments (as in, could I work in a lab for 18 months instead of a 2 full years). I am asking because with timeline I have in mind for enrolling in med school, I would have more than a year to work in a lab, but less than 2.
This is possible, it's totally up to the PI. But bear in mind that most of the turnover is in the summer after graduation so it may be hard to find a lab that has a vacancy when you want to start, or is willing to let you leave in the middle of the academic year depending on how you want to do your 18 months. Most PIs will want you to start when another IRTA is leaving, and have a replacement as soon as you leave to keep the continuity of their lab structure and budget. Some might be more flexible.
 
May 10, 2013
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What's the best way to start narrowing down PI's to do research with? I haven't got much experience with biological research, so should I just start emailing professors whose research interests are appealing?
 

TexasSurgeon

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Any idea on the chances of getting a 1 year stint instead of 2? I'm really only looking for 1 year at NIH and I've submitted my IRTA app since about a month ago. Currently contacting PIs. How did you guys fare?
I'm doing a two-year stint as an IRTA and I agree with pretty much everything Reckoner said, although my experience hasn't been as uniformly positive because I was naive about the importance of lab culture when I chose my lab. There is a huge variation between labs and the roles they have for IRTAs. You need to consider the lab culture critically, as much or more than the research really. You can have a good experience in a lab with a friendly productive culture even if the research isn't 100% what you want to do, but if the lab culture is toxic then it won't matter how interesting your research topic is. You should talk to other IRTAs in the lab before you commit to one, and don't join a lab where you will be the only IRTA. I haven't had a great experience because I am in a very small lab with an inexperienced PI who is a poor manager. I would highly highly recommend you choose a lab that has a large group of other IRTAs because it will give you a better social environment, a better defined role in the lab, and a greater chance to be successful overall.

I would have been better off if I had prioritized choosing a lab with a history of good experiences from IRTAs. That said, there is no better place to pursue your research than NIH. The concentration of resources and talent here is amazing. It has definitely helped me in interviews!
I couldn't agree more. I'm in a lab right now that does work somewhat unrelated to my interests, but the people I work with are awesome. OP, you should also ask any PI you interview with if they will let you speak with people in their lab, especially current IRTAs.
 

CellPowerhouse

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Any idea on the chances of getting a 1 year stint instead of 2? I'm really only looking for 1 year at NIH and I've submitted my IRTA app since about a month ago. Currently contacting PIs. How did you guys fare?
Can't really "chance" the whole post-bac application process in general as it is very PI-dependent. 1-year appointments aren't as common as 2-year ones. I remember when I was interviewing, a PI explained that hiring someone for a year is not productive at all for their lab, as by the time that post-bac is done with all the training/learning what they have to do in lab, he/she will have less than a year to come up with good results/develop own projects. Everything will be rushed, and it'll overall not be as good of a deal from the lab's point of view.

That said, if you're really adamant about doing just one year, focus your search on labs that you know you already have the skill set for. That'll definitely help with the case of staying for just one year, but still not a guarantee they will take you.
 
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Feb 24, 2013
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Any idea on the chances of getting a 1 year stint instead of 2? I'm really only looking for 1 year at NIH and I've submitted my IRTA app since about a month ago. Currently contacting PIs. How did you guys fare?
1 year is less preferred by PIs than 2 years, but I can't say what your particular chances are. It will depend what kind of labs you apply to, if they have roles for 1 year students or not. Usually these will be more scut work that don't require the lab to invest as much in training you. And you are also less likely to get on many pubs or be able to talk about them fluently during your interviews. I am an M2 now and I have found that having a couple of good pubs from NIH has opened doors and taken off some of the pressure in medical school. I got into my top choice school and found a good lab to work in during med school so overall I fared well coming off a 2 years of experience but of course it is a greater time investment. If you can get a good 1 year offer that's great, but I would stay open to 2 year offers. NIH is a fun place and you will get more personal and professional value out of a 2 yr stint.
 

PhiGammaDocta

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I found myself searching out labs at NIH early this Fall to start in the Summer (2016) for a 1 year stint, majority of people that got back to me said they'd be interested but that I would have to commit 2 years. If you can find a good spot for 1 year that prepares you go for it, but the downside with only 1 year is that if you're applying that year you probably won't be able to get a rec letter out of the PI you're working with for that cycle (which probably would carry a lot of weight!).
 

TexasSurgeon

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I found myself searching out labs at NIH early this Fall to start in the Summer (2016) for a 1 year stint, majority of people that got back to me said they'd be interested but that I would have to commit 2 years. If you can find a good spot for 1 year that prepares you go for it, but the downside with only 1 year is that if you're applying that year you probably won't be able to get a rec letter out of the PI you're working with for that cycle (which probably would carry a lot of weight!).
Did you get any luck? I just accepted an offer last week!