Mar 5, 2010
16
0
0
Status
Pre-Health (Field Undecided)
I am mostly an occasional lurker on this board, but you all seem like an ok group, so I thought I would shoot out a question:)

I am a non-trad student. Basic stats:
-1 prereq left that I am taking this summer (math)
-MCAT is in 23 days, and I plan to apply this year.
-Undergrad from a good school, very good GPA
-J.D. from a top 20 school
-A TON of clinical (very high patient contact) and volunteer experience
-Great letters of rec from 3 science professors, 1 employer, 1 volunteer supervisor.

My dream would be to apply to MSTP programs with a PhD in Epidemiology. The problem is that I don't have any true traditional research experience (though I would argue that a JD and the law-related research positions I held were good preparation for a PhD in Epi, whereas they would not be a good prep for a PhD in a wet science).

Most of the programs out there that take undergrads as research assistants require that you actually be a student of the university. So....ideas? It has been suggested that if I start knocking on doors of people at universities and offer my services for free, I may get a nibble. Is this realistic? Has anyone else had any luck getting a traditional research assistant position as a non-traditional student? I realize that I am too late to get any research experience in time for this year's applications, but I can always re-apply to MSTP after the first year of the MD program (at most schools).

Alternatively, is there anyone who has applied and successfully gotten into a non-wet-science MD/PhD program and wants to share info/point me to a thread where someone has shared info?

My biggest concern is that if my MSTP application is weak, and I apply to MSTP anyway, though I will still be considered for the MD, my application will be delayed and I will lose any advantage that I had applying early.

Any input on any of the above would be greatly appreciated!
 

kia ora

Member
10+ Year Member
Apr 23, 2006
392
6
251
Status
Pre-Medical
this blog http://oldmdgirl.blogspot.com/ is written by a woman who is doing an MD/PhD in Epi. she probably could answer your questions wrt that track better than most of us here

as for getting a research position as a non-trad, I did a summer of bench research at the uni where I was taking my prereqs. however, I did not seek out the job, some professors I'd taken recommended me to another prof in the department and she offered me the position. and no, I did not find that having a law degree was too relevant to bench research (though I could construct Pubmed searches like nobody's business)
 
Mar 5, 2010
16
0
0
Status
Pre-Health (Field Undecided)
Thanks kia, that blog is fantastic! Bookmarked and will be visited regularly, I'm sure.

As far as the relevance of a JD goes, I just meant that I am no stranger to the basic aspects of non-wet research: finding information people say doesn't exist; deciphering strange language in a field I am unfamiliar with; endlessly searching; working well with others and not running with scissors, etc. Whereas if you asked me to do a Western Blot (or really anything other than basic pipetting) I would give you a blank stare:)

Due to financial reasons, my pre-reqs were taken (mostly) slowly at a CC while working full time, and not at a university, so I don't really have professor connections at a Uni. I do volunteer extensively at a Uni hospital, but I am in a very odd position of high patient contact and low supervision, and zero interaction with anyone who does research.....hence the dilemma.


this blog http://oldmdgirl.blogspot.com/ is written by a woman who is doing an MD/PhD in Epi. she probably could answer your questions wrt that track better than most of us here

as for getting a research position as a non-trad, I did a summer of bench research at the uni where I was taking my prereqs. however, I did not seek out the job, some professors I'd taken recommended me to another prof in the department and she offered me the position. and no, I did not find that having a law degree was too relevant to bench research (though I could construct Pubmed searches like nobody's business)
 

StIGMA

Doctor Professor
10+ Year Member
Jul 6, 2008
1,014
152
281
Status
Resident [Any Field]
MD/PhD programs do not traditionally fund epi research. Some schools do, but you need to be a superstar. Chances are you will not get into an MSTP if you are gunning for Epi research. Your best bet would be to do an MD or MD/MPH and look for the additional epi training elsewhere. From my incomplete understanding, you do not need a PhD in epidemiology (nor would it necessarily be beneficial to have one) to do cutting-edge epidemiology research. Contact epi departments and professors (specifically the MD, MD/MPH, and non-basic science MD/PhD ones) and get their opinions!
 

kia ora

Member
10+ Year Member
Apr 23, 2006
392
6
251
Status
Pre-Medical
As far as the relevance of a JD goes, I just meant that I am no stranger to the basic aspects of non-wet research: finding information people say doesn't exist; deciphering strange language in a field I am unfamiliar with; endlessly searching; working well with others and not running with scissors, etc. Whereas if you asked me to do a Western Blot (or really anything other than basic pipetting) I would give you a blank stare:)
well, I had no lab experience (other than gen bio/gen chem/ochem labs) but I was doing Westerns my second day on the job. it's much more fun than, say, Shepardizing... your PI and/or labmates will teach you how to do techniques. I guess the difficult part is getting into a lab. good luck!
 
Mar 5, 2010
16
0
0
Status
Pre-Health (Field Undecided)
@Kia - oh come on.....you know Shepardizing is AWESOME;)

@Stigma - sorry, I was super wordy up there, so it was easy to get lost; my main question was really "Hey, how can an old lady find some research?".

I do know that programs exist, and yes, there are not many of them, but they're out there. Are you saying that in your experience even at the schools that DO allow a PhD in Epi that they will generally choose someone who is looking to do a PhD in Neuro or Biochem just because of how the funds will be distributed? Or are you saying that you don't know many/any people who apply to Epi programs? Or that you know many people who apply but not many that get in? Or, if you're just trying to dissuade me from the long road of MD/PhD because I'm old.....well, I can respect that:laugh:

As for the doing it separately option, I am open to it; I actually applied to PhD programs this year. However, funding is crap right now in CA and I am not sure if I want to go that route. I also know that the MD/MPH option is probably not right for me for several reasons. I know that an MD would be fine for a lot of research both academic and private, but there are some other things that I want to do on a grand scale that the PhD would facilitate whereas it is not clear to me that the MPH would.
 

StIGMA

Doctor Professor
10+ Year Member
Jul 6, 2008
1,014
152
281
Status
Resident [Any Field]
To find research, I would recommend contacting local universities or universities where you would be fine relocating. Find out who the big names are, and tell them (via email/ask to meet in person) who you are, how you want to be involved and what your career aspirations are. Send your CV, statements of intent, etc just like any other application process. If they do not have openings, ask if they can recommend you to people who do. I do not think you would need to be a student, because you would not need to take the course for class credit. If you play it right, you may be able to do it as a job (emphasize the skills you mentioned that are useful to them). Obviously, your first efforts to be to people who post openings.

Your age only matters insofar as you care about it, so, no, I was not referring to your age. The fact is you are not going to have 2 separate careers, 1 as a grand epidemiologist and the other as an MD. One will have to give. You will end up favoring one over the other. My point was that if you absolutely want to be a clinician, you likely do not need PhD training to do what you want to do in epidemiology (you can get the training along with your MD training throughout medical school and residency). It may be a harder road without formal PhD training, but it can be done. Moreover, you can always collaborate with a full-time epidemiologist and do the same work anyways as an MD (with as much epi training on your own as you want).

If an MPH is not enough for you, then you may perhaps be underestimating what can be done with an MPH + additional research experiences (without the formal PhD). Alternatively, perhaps you desire the PhD so much that excluding clinical training would be an option. Doing both an MD and PhD in epi is overkill, and your time could be better spent streamlining the process (by cutting the formal epi training).

MD/PhD programs funded by the NIH (MSTP) do not have a mission to train epidemiologists. Generally speaking, their mission is to train basic science researchers who will push forward the medical science enterprise ("translational" or "transformative" research). The dual training in this regard are laboratory research combined with clinical training. Epidemiological training is outside the purview of MSTP's, and I believe the funding for these few spots is by the sponsoring university, not the NIH. So, fewer people apply to MD/PhD programs in general as Epi PhD's, and proportionally much fewer matriculate compared to the traditional students. You just need to know that you will have a hard time getting in to one of these programs, no matter who you are.
 
Last edited:

Shifty B

10+ Year Member
Aug 13, 2008
452
96
271
Status
Attending Physician
So, Stigma is right in pointing out that there aren't that many programs that offer epidemiology degrees as options in their MD/PhD programs. This is probably at least partially because of the way epidemiology is funded, as you pointed out. In these programs, I doubt that there much bias against people interested in epidemiology, though so once you got in you would be free to do it. Some places may have separate PhD programs which have only 1-2 spots a year which are separate from their MSTP program.

It's also true that many people with MD's pursue epidemiology research. It is possible to get an MPH or some other masters level degree to supplement your research. I'm not really sure that a PhD is necessary if you're already set on going to medical school.

Could I ask something though?

What is it exactly that you are trying to achieve with your career? You've already gotten a JD, and now you're considering pursuing two more terminal degrees which will take 8 years more. Do you have a problem making up your mind? It may seem a little harsh, but I think if you do end up applying to MD/PhD programs it will come up a lot. And this will come from programs (MD/PhD) which tend to attract people who can't make up their mind!
 
Mar 5, 2010
16
0
0
Status
Pre-Health (Field Undecided)
First, let me just say that I am typing this on my iPhone, so please forgive any odd typos:)* I think I made a mistake in my first post giving too much background information when the information that I was a non-traditional student seeking traditional academic research opportunities would have been enough info.* It led to a discussion of "what are her chances" which is not at all what I wanted this thread to be about, or information I was looking for.* I am sure that it was all coming from a wonderful place, and I do appreciate that everyone is so willing to chime in on what is obviously an important life decision.** And thank you to the people who sent me PMs

I will keep this post brief (for many reasons, not the least of which being that iPhones suck) and say that I think Stigma finally addressed my main question in the second post - it DOES seem to be ok to cold-contact researchers at universities for the purpose of gathering information and possibly doing research, so thank you very much Stigma.*** I would really rather not give up any more information about my background or my future plans because unfortunately they are inseparable and incredibly distinctive.* But I will say that one of the reasons that I want the MD/PhD combo is exactly something that you addressed, Shifty - it is possible to take a quick glance at me and think that I am a degree collector.* If you look at my past work experience I think you would very quickly realize that it isn't the case, but it is also why (rightly or wrongly) I think that this is my last chance at school, hence the MD/PhD combo.* I don't think it is in my best interest to just sell myself as a straight MD candidate and then later try to get a PhD or vice versa because then I WOULD look like I continually jump ship.* This was also what I was referring to when I made a comment about my age, Stigma - not my chronological age, but rather I am quickly making myself seem overqualified for a lot of things, and if I want to get out of the business I am in and continue along this journey, it should probably happen pretty soon.

Thanks all, for answering my question, it was greatly appreciated.
 

Shifty B

10+ Year Member
Aug 13, 2008
452
96
271
Status
Attending Physician
Ok, I see what you are saying. You may have some success with the procedure Stigma suggested and may be able to land a position even with some pay, depending on what your past experience is. However, I think it is far more likely that you would be able to land a spot through some personal connection. For instance, how did you get this clinical position? Is there someone at the institution (staff or otherwise) that you are at who can refer you to the right person at a local institution? at his medical school? Otherwise, your interest may be overlooked, whereas if you are referred by the right person you will get your foot in the door.

I did not mean to blast you as looking like you're trolling for degrees. However, questions about your motivation are going to come up as soon as you start looking for a research position, let alone when you apply to MD/PhD programs. So, you don't have to answer these questions here, but at least be ready to answer them.

For that matter, one of the biggest barriers to entry for traditional students applying to MD/PhD programs is questions of motivation. Research experience when applying is more to demonstrate a true interest in a research career than actual research prowess.