Hey, I am just finishing up my year doing this. It was definately helpful for the application, such a difference. Challenging is the way to describe it, but a lot depends on the investigator. Since it is afterall NIH, people here breathe research so in terms of atmosphere laid back is pretty rare. Once again getting a nice investigator would be a key. There are a lot of opportunities to learn, from my experience I haven't heard of anyone washing labware. It's actually pretty opposite. If you have previous lab experience and your stats are decent, getting a position shouldn't be too hard. good luck
I filled out the application a month or so ago cuz I was getting desparate about what to do next year, and had an offer for an interview offer in less than a week. Turned it down though cuz I got an acceptance right beforehand. It looks like an awesome program, I was kinda disappointed I don't get to do it now..
anything with NIH on it looks very very good on your app. I did it the year after i graduated too, and people mentioned it very positively in nearly every interview. I had a couple interviewers ask me to come by and talk about my research (and see if I would be interested in their research) if i went to their school! Best of luck.
I did this last year. There are a lot of labs and I would say its easy to get a interview if you had some research experience. It doesn't pay much at all and you live in the lab. I have had a very bad experience. I ended up getting a horrible PI. This lady was crazy. I so believed she had bipolar disorder. She would put you down every chance she got. I think a lot of that was due to her culture. Everybody in the lab was vey unhappy, even the post-docs. My advice is to choose your PI wisly. Ask questions about the PI to people that work with him/her and see what they have to say. There are some labs that are awesome, the problem is finding them.
I would second the advice that you should be selective in who you work with. I spent the summer before my junior year in a lab at the NIH, and I worked with a doc who was extremely cold and critical, wanted to micromanage every detail in her lab, and didn't let me participate much in her experiments. I met one of her former IRTA students, and it seems she was pretty much the same way with him. Fortunately, many of the other doctors I met there were very friendly and willing to teach. From my ( limited) experience, it seemed the more laid-back docs were those who were planning to do a few years of research and return to clinical practice, while those (like the PI I worked with) who seemed to look down on clinical medicine and planned to devote their career to research tended to be much more uptight and difficult to work with. This makes sense, as the whole atmosphere reminded me of acadamia--very competitive, those who wanted to lead their own research, get grants and promotions, etc. had to be pretty devoted, willing to spend all their time in the lab and step over their colleagues when necessary. You can probably tell I'm biased--I don't like competing with others on a personal level and prefer a teamwork atmosphere--but I think this sort of PI can make your life as a student very difficult and seriously affect the enjoyment of the experience.
Despite this doctor, I had a good overall experience at the NIH and am glad I went--I got to meet some amazing and talented doctors, participate in and learn about some fascinating research, and DC is a fun city. I met several post-bac IRTA's who were applying to med school, they seemed to feel that the experience was helping them in that process.