NIH Summer Internship or keep working in current lab + more clinical experience?

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chanseyegg

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Many NIH summer students shadow their PIs in the clinical settings so that is not a negative of the NIH position.
Having food and housing sounds like a big plus.

Given that you haven't taken the MCAT, it is hard to say whether you are a good candidate for a T20 school. If you want a career in academic medicine, then having NIH experience and getting into a top research school could help but if your MCAT score is going to hold you back from that option, or you aren't really interested in that option, then the NIH doesn't make as much sense.
 
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I am currently at the NIH as a post-bac and I LOVE it here. There are an unbelievable amount of resources available for students applying to graduate and professional programs. Lots of personal advising, MCAT help, mock interviews and the like. Just the resources alone are massively helpful but the NIH is also a wonderful place to meet brilliant researchers and learn so much. I would highly recommend the NIH. I will say though that (unless you are in the clinical center) it is very research focused and there is not any structured time for shadowing/clinical exposure. So if you need more clinical exposure then its maybe not the place.
 
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Many NIH summer students shadow their PIs in the clinical settings so that is not a negative of the NIH position.
Having food and housing sounds like a big plus.

Given that you haven't taken the MCAT, it is hard to say whether you are a good candidate for a T20 school. If you want a career in academic medicine, then having NIH experience and getting into a top research school could help but if your MCAT score is going to hold you back from that option, or you aren't really interested in that option, then the NIH doesn't make as much sense.
Thanks so much for your response! I am definitely interested in going to a research-oriented med school (and eventually academic medicine); would a summer at the NIH be viewed as more of a plus compared to other summer research programs or just continuing research at my university (with the big assumption that my MCAT won't be an issue)? Or would number of publications/presentations still hold more weight?

I wouldn't be going into the NIH experience with high expectations of getting published since I know that's probably not the norm for undergrad interns, but the NIH lab is in the same field as my current lab so I am definitely interested in getting to learn some new techniques and get a different perspective on the field.
 
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I'm also a current postbac who started in the same lab that I interned at the summer after my freshman year (been here almost 6 years with the same PI but different mentors) and I wouldn't have had it any other way. Making that initial connection during a summer internship set me up to do a postbac here which comes with many benefits. A lot of them were mentioned above, but a separate one is the dedicated time we get toward professional development; we don't use vacation days for interviews, second look days or even volunteering if we can set it up with our PI's! This is on top of ~20 days no questions asked vacation time for whatever you need. My lab is highly clinical as well so I've had a ton of shadowing experience, albeit not as much during my summer internship days.

For me, the summer internship set me up for a postbac here. If you are considering doing gap years I'd say give it a shot and apply! I'm matriculating to a MSTP this summer and I feel that my NIH experience was the catalyst for my acceptance.
 
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OP: I'd be interested in what your PI/mentor in your current lab suggests for you about going to NIH. I'm guessing you'd want that PI's LOR at some point, so it would be good to see if he/she also thinks positively about this experience or if your project is about to turn a corner and become really interesting (i.e., close to a publication or a grant), and it's not a good time to be shorthanded.
 
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OP: I'd be interested in what your PI/mentor in your current lab suggests for you about going to NIH. I'm guessing you'd want that PI's LOR at some point, so it would be good to see if he/she also thinks positively about this experience or if your project is about to turn a corner and become really interesting (i.e., close to a publication or a grant), and it's not a good time to be shorthanded.
I'm planning to talk with my PI more in depth about this soon, so will update on this! My PI's opinion also really matters to me; he was open to me applying to the NIH and other programs and wrote me a rec letter for them, but if he'd really prefer me to stay based on current project progress, I guess I wouldn't necessarily want to go against that. I do have independent projects that I've been able to make progress on, I have one pub and am hoping to wrap a project this semester to get written up as a paper. Hoping should probably be emphasized though since I'm not 100% sure if my current project will end up extending into the summer.

Another thing is that a chunk of my work in my current lab can be done remotely, especially in the end stages, there's a lot of dry lab and computational work. It would probably be possible for me to wrap up my current project remotely if I do leave for the summer, there'd just be less time for it and I'd have to be really stringent with time scheduling :(
 
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Just my .02 but I also had this dilemma a couple years ago. I ended up choosing to pursue the summer research internship at NIH, and came back to my undergrad lab after until I graduated. I will note that I had a very very supportive undergrad mentor who thought it was great that I was pursuing the opportunity. I think the experience did make me a stronger researcher; yes you lose some time to progress on your current projects but you gain new experiences in research different from what you're used to, develop new relationships, and (for me) get to live in a new city for a while. I think these new perspectives are very much worth the ~3 months you're away from your current lab. Personally, the experience is what led me to my gap year(s) position after graduation, and ultimately led me to pursue a MD/PhD. If it means anything, I will be matriculating to my top choice MSTP this year. I do think with choosing the NIH, you will have a lot to gain, and very little to lose. Your mentors' support will have a lot to do with your decision though.
 
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OP: I'd be interested in what your PI/mentor in your current lab suggests for you about going to NIH. I'm guessing you'd want that PI's LOR at some point, so it would be good to see if he/she also thinks positively about this experience or if your project is about to turn a corner and become really interesting (i.e., close to a publication or a grant), and it's not a good time to be shorthanded.
So as an update on this, my PI said he'd support my choice either way, but he did point out that I'd probably have a lot more independence over my work if I were to stay and that I'd likely be able to make good progress on publications/abstracts since we're wrapping up some projects and others are gaining more momentum.

I'd still be able to work on these in some capacity remotely if I were to do the NIH internship but would probably take longer to finish them, especially for papers (most of the papers I've worked on in my lab have taken at least half a year from drafting to final publication). I'm most likely going to stay in my current lab for a gap year, so that would probably help in wrapping things up. The main other thing would really be missing out on a good chunk of clinical volunteering/work hours that I do on campus.
 
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So as an update on this, my PI said he'd support my choice either way, but he did point out that I'd probably have a lot more independence over my work if I were to stay and that I'd likely be able to make good progress on publications/abstracts since we're wrapping up some projects and others are gaining more momentum.

I'd still be able to work on these in some capacity remotely if I were to do the NIH internship but would probably take longer to finish them, especially for papers (most of the papers I've worked on in my lab have taken at least half a year from drafting to final publication). I'm most likely going to stay in my current lab for a gap year, so that would probably help in wrapping things up. The main other thing would really be missing out on a good chunk of clinical volunteering/work hours that I do on campus.
Best of luck!
 
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So as an update on this, my PI said he'd support my choice either way, but he did point out that I'd probably have a lot more independence over my work if I were to stay and that I'd likely be able to make good progress on publications/abstracts since we're wrapping up some projects and others are gaining more momentum.

I'd still be able to work on these in some capacity remotely if I were to do the NIH internship but would probably take longer to finish them, especially for papers (most of the papers I've worked on in my lab have taken at least half a year from drafting to final publication). I'm most likely going to stay in my current lab for a gap year, so that would probably help in wrapping things up. The main other thing would really be missing out on a good chunk of clinical volunteering/work hours that I do on campus.
Hey there,

It sounds like you've got two great options and that each has a lot to recommend it.

I will say that from my perspective, having just read through your posts, it sounds like a part of you would prefer to stay in your current lab. The "pros" you listed for your current lab seem better articulated and more personal than the "pros" you listed for NIH. It also seems like you've built some great relationships and some fantastic experience in your current lab and that you're able to speak more passionately about it than about NIH. That passion will make a difference in your application essays and in interviews, as will a fantastic letter of rec from your PI and your numerous publications. It also sounds like staying at your current lab would allow you more flexibility to pursue clinical opportunities and study for the MCAT, which is certainly not something to discount. Overall, it just sounds like your current lab is better aligned with your preferences while still offering great value in terms of experience and relationships. So why not stick with it?

That's my two cents -- maybe I'm reading too much into your posts. Definitely field some more advice from forums, friends, and family. Ultimately, however, the decision is yours. Go with your gut and remember that in situations like these, there typically is no "right" answer. Just treat the decision and its outcomes as a learning process.

All the best!
 
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I did every summer in my undergrad research lab, and while I loved the lab, I regret not getting more experience at other labs. I felt like I had a very narrow view of how research could be done since I had only ever worked in one lab. Doing a post-bac at the NIH now and love it. I think it's been super beneficial to my application. Also on the note of clinical experience- I do think if you want clinical experience at the NIH you can definitely get it you just have to be more selective about the labs you apply to. Many clinical focused labs have post-bacs/interns interacting with patients all the time.
 
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