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NIH Pre-IRTA Questions

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by cdoc, Nov 22, 2005.

  1. cdoc

    cdoc Junior Member
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    Hey all! Some time ago I posted a question regarding Pre-IRTA internships at NIH. I got a very positive response and continued looking into them.

    Most people recommended that I apply for next year (possibly beginning immediately following my May 2006 graduation) sometime in December/January. December appeals, since I can include current semester classes in GPA calc, too.

    Questions are as follows:

    1) Application asks for resume and for cover letter, but everyone keeps mentioning a personal statement. Is the cover letter a cover letter or a PS? I am not sure if they're looking for my life story or not.

    2) What sort of things make an app stand out in such a large pool of applicants? Obviously, a good GPA is a must, plus research experience (presentation stuff a plus). But what else? This spot means a LOT to me, so any and all advice would be welcomed!! Some people have mentioned sending snail mail requests for spots directly to labs I am interested in. Thoughts?

    3) Anyone leaving a lab (or knows of a spot available) in a lab with an environment they'd recommend? I would definitely be willing to talk; some PI's might appreciate a heads-up on a possible newbie from someone currently working in their lab.

    4) Any other info you think I should know - things that you wish you had known when you applied/started an internship. Things I can do that you would recommend, things to watch out for, that sort of thing. If anyone has a cover letter that was especially good that you wouldn't mind my reading, it would be a great help.

    Thanks in advance for all of your help! If you want more info on me, I'd be glad to talk. I love the research that I am currently doing and find the whole precess fascinating - I want to jump in with both feet for a year and do some serious science before I switch to clinical mode in med school - I know I would rather do that than full-time science long-term.

    Thanks again!
     
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  3. Thundrstorm

    10+ Year Member

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    I'm a Postbacc IRTA right now, and I definitely think you should pursue it. I don't remember the application instructions all that well, but I definitely wrote a personal statement about my research experience and career goals, along with some personal interest stuff thrown in. I think it's a good idea to name your area of interest, but point out that you're flexible. Also mention the kinds of skills you learned in your lab experience. However, that there are people in the program who had NO experience coming in but found a really helpful PI. I think e-mailing PIs who interest you is a good idea. Always visit a lab before committing. Ask to come on a day when they're having lab meeting, and get a feel for the personalities and for how hands-on the PI is. Ask whether you'll be working directly with the PI or a different mentor. Ask if there is a specific project in mind for you. Ask if you're expected to do "menial" tasks like puring LB, cleaning plates, etc. You should have no problem finding a lab where you DON'T have to do scut work. I take care of the ordering in my lab and I put away glassware twice a week, but that's all, and it takes up very little of my time (maybe 45-60 minutes per week). Ask what kinds of hours are expected of you. 40hrs/wk? weekends?

    Good luck.
     
  4. nairay

    nairay Not burnt bread
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    I'm a product of the IRTA program and I'd follow the advice given above. Additional advice: when emailing PIs, include your CV/resume/personal statement (so they can easily access it if they want without having to search through the database). Another thing you can do is ask the PI (or post-doc you might be working with) for the email addresses of current and previous IRTAs to ask how their experience was. They may have worked on a different project, but they've worked closely with who you'll be working with and can give you a better idea of the lab environment, hours, leniency with apps/interviews, etc. Research the labs on the web beforehand on their webpages (it's a pain with the infinite number of labs at NIH, but well worth the effort). Keep your options open!

    I had research experience different from the focus that my lab did, but as long as you can commit with a good work ethic, and feel that you'll match well, you should be fine.

    I don't know about the other institutes, but at the Natl. Inst. of Mental Health, the IRTA training director can also give some good advice about labs to choose from within NIMH and the app process. If you're interested in that, I can give you her email if you want.

    Good luck!
     
  5. Labslave

    Labslave Senior Member
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    1) It really is more of a cover letter. The questions you need to answer are pretty easy...they were something like this:

    A) Talk about previous research experience and academic interests.

    B) What do you invision your future career being?

    C) Why the NIH?


    2) As for things that would make your app stand out, a publication or two would go a long way. I think you just need to be genuinely excited about your past research experience(s) and demonstrate that in your writing.

    3) I can't help you out with this one.

    4) With regards to the other things you should know...

    A) Make sure you know what your expected time commitment will be. This kinda' took me by surprise. You'll want to know whether or not you'll have to work on weekends or expected to work more than 8 hrs./day.

    B) Ask about opportunities to go to conferences and take classes. I'm not allowed to do either in my lab, whereas most labs allow their post-baccs to do so (and yes, they pay for you to go to the conferences and take classes!).

    C) Ask whether or not you'll have the opportunity to embark on your own independent project. There's nothing worse than getting stuck being a post-doc's slave and not being interested in the work you're doing. Additionally, working on your own project will afford you a lot of flexibility with scheduling your interviews...which reminds me...

    D) Ask about vacation time. Seeing as you're going to be applying to medical school, you'll want to be able to go on all of your interviews and have these days NOT count as vacation days (you get 13/year). Although most labs are kind and don't keep track of your interview days and give people a lot of slack (I have a friend who's had over 20 interviews and still gets vacation days without having to work weekends!), I wasn't lucky enough to choose one of these labs. :thumbdown:

    PM me if you need any help. Good luck!
     
  6. cdoc

    cdoc Junior Member
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    Thanks all for your advice. It is much appreciated!

    Labslave, I'm curious if you got a good response from previous lab techs in the lab that you're in or if you didn't ask <grin>. I guess it could happen that you'd talk to a spiteful lab tech who tells all newbies to join up just so that they're not the only one...ouch!

    Curious still as to when you applied (Jan/Feb time?) and when you started your internship (May/June?) How many labs did you guys hear from on average and how many did you personally contact (proactively)?

    Sorry for the questions, but your advice helps!

    Thanks again.
     
  7. TicAL

    TicAL Senior Member
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    I'm considering taking a year off before medical school myself, and I'm also interested in this program. How well does this program pay? Is it enough to be able to live on your own?
     
  8. cdoc

    cdoc Junior Member
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    Check out www.nih.gov under "training" (you want the IRTA option).
    Stipends vary a bit depending on previous research background, but basically it's enough to live very frugally on your own (easiest bunking with other people in an apartment).

    About 24K-25K. Remember to deduct for insurance (they offer it) and other junk. Definitely doable.

    Feel free to ask any other questions about this program that you want on this thread - maybe I won't have thought of them.

    Good luck to you in applying. Are you applying now for an internship beginning this summer (or for next cycle)?
     
  9. nairay

    nairay Not burnt bread
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    I applied in Feb/March and was able to negotiate my start date to September (to enjoy my last summer after graduating, backpack around Europe, etc) - I had a 2 year committment so they were flexible about that. I was interested in neuroscience-related labs, and heard back from about 5-6 labs in Bethesda and Baltimore. I had to do phone interviews because they couldnt' fly me out from CA (I eventually visited when I was in town looking for housing). I had listed some PIs on my cover letter, but never contacted them personally (which I probably should have done, but it all worked out in the end).

    The highest turnover is around May/June, and throughout the summer. Try not to start right before/during a big conference that the lab goes to; everyone might be busy with their poster/presentations. One of my coworkers was advised to start right after one big conference in June because the lab knew they wouldn't be around.

    Salary-wise, it's doable, and increases slightly every year. NIH provides $105/mo for using public transportation. You can make money on the side by doing normal volunteer studies from other institutes. If you join an NCI (Natl Cancer Inst) lab they pay slightly more (and based on GPA, or something like that.)
     
  10. somewhere2010

    somewhere2010 SDN Donor
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    i'm a second year IRTA at NIH and will be leaving in may...we've already gotten a few people emailing my PI directly with interest in our work, and though we're certainly not lazy, it's much easier to go with someone who's already made a case for him/herself + resume + cover letter in your mailbox! so if you find some labs you're really excited about, you should contact them directly. i didn't know to do so, and i applied in february...but i still had several interviews and ended up in a lab i love in june! so the direct contact route is certainly not required for obtaining a position in a lab.

    i'm doing neuroscience research - part wet lab, part clinical. PM me if you're interested!
     

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