Jun 17, 2010
23
0
Status
Pre-Medical
Hello Fellow SDN Members,

I am currently working through the third year of my undergraduate studies and find myself in an interesting position. I began school in 2006 as a Mechanical Engineering major and then took a two-year leave from 2007-2009 for service as a missionary for my church.

Since returning home, I have found the fields of medicine and medical science more and more fascinating. I decided early last year to take the remaining pre-requisites for medical school will be ready to apply for MD schools this coming June. My only regret has been that I might not have the opportunity to perform R&D as I had dreamed of since I was a little tyke.

Then, in the last six months or so, I gained more exposure and decided to see what it would take to pursue an MD / PhD in Bioengineering (the best of both worlds as I see it).

My concern now is that I probably lack sufficient research experience. The university which I currently attend has effectively no faculty-driven research opportunities (though there are some grants available for small undergrad projects). I am however leading a team through construction and structural analysis of composite sailplanes which we will enter into our university's undergraduate research fair this coming spring. This will be my first major experience in research since I attended the Intel ISEF (International Science and Engineering Fair) as a senior in High School, 2006.

While this research is not directly related to the medical field, I feel the principles I am learning and skills I am gaining could extend more generally to other research arenas, such as bio-mechanical prosthetics, bio-materials engineering, etc.

My grades are fair (3.9+) and I am working on various applications for NSF funded summer research opportunities.

My question is, are any of my current and approaching research experiences (1 year in High School, ~1 year now, and hopefully acceptance to a summer SURF/SURP/REU program) at all significant? Would I chance acceptance to a MSTP in this coming application cycle? Or would I be better off to save some money and gain another year of hard research experience before even applying? If so, what avenue would be best to follow? (e.g. fulfill a research fellowship, get a masters degree, work for R&D in industry...)

Thanks; I found a few threads on a similar note but I thought my situation might be unique.

-Nucleophobe
 
Last edited:
Dec 31, 2009
91
0
Pittsburgh, PA
Status
MD/PhD Student
I'd say that your engineering work so far is great to include in your application, and you could make a decent application from all of it. For your experiences thus far and ones that you are looking for, I'd try and keep the following in mind. One challenge you will have is that the majority of MSTPs are heavily focused on basic biological research. You will have to either make a strong case for how you will effectively utilize the dual-degree doing engineering research or you need to think about how to direct your engineering training towards answering basic biological questions. If you can find a lab for your REU project that exemplifies the type of research you'd like to perform in your dual degree AND you are strong in all the other areas of your application, you could be in a ok shape. It will still be lighter than a lot of applicants in actual lab work since I'm guessing you won't even be done with this summer's work when your primaries have to go in. The trick is to describe your engineering projects thus far to your next research project and to your career goals in an effective way so they count it all. If you're happy with the rest of your application when it's time to put things together, I'd say go for it. If you don't feel like you've gotten a significant amount of more medically-related research under your belt by applications time, think about doing a one year masters on a biomed project or doing a year of research.

Good luck!
 

bd4727

10+ Year Member
Jul 17, 2008
361
26
USA
Status
Attending Physician
I have seen many people follow similar tracks as you. My overall advice is to not fall prey to comparing yourself to all the biochemistry majors (of which I was one). You will by virtue of your undergrad major have a very different experience with regard to background and the type of research you have done. That is fine. Do not feel like you need to spend years becoming a biologist to get into a good MSTP.

That being said, there are a few things that will help you out a lot. First, you must score well on the MCAT. Secondly, 1 year of research is below average for the most competitive MSTPs. While generally my advice is that your topic doesn't need to be medical (I know many people who did plant molecular bio), I am hesitant to give you that advice in this situation. Because your work is so removed from molecular biology/cells/etc, I would encourage you to try and find a true BioE project for your summer REU.

With regard to getting more research experience, this really comes down to your own personal evaluation of your competativeness (which mainly encompasses your grades, MCAT, and research). I always strongly recommend NOT doing a masters-- personally I think it is a waste of your time and money if you are only doing this as a means to get into a MSTP. If you wanted to take 1 year to do research after undergrad, which seems to me might be a good idea in your situation, I would suggest working on something very hardcore biology (maybe not even bioE at all) so that you can make the case that you know what you are getting into. Try looking at the NIH IRTA program, or similar 1 year out research programs.

Good luck.
 
Dec 31, 2009
91
0
Pittsburgh, PA
Status
MD/PhD Student
Totally agree with the above advice!

One point though, you don't necessarily need to do a straight bio lab if that's not what you're interested in doing for your MD/PhD. There is a spectrum of effective research you can do from bio to engineering. You certainly can do research that uses engineering tools and quantitative approaches to answer biological questions. You even can do research that is straight engineering/technology development in things like imaging, artificial organs, biosensors, medical robotics, rehab tech, nanomaterials/drug delivery, etc. You can do actual tech engineering in an MSTP, but you need to be really good at it and you need to try and have something you can point to to support your expertise like working prototypes, tech that actually interacts with patients or their data, patent apps, papers, etc (IMO). One of my my good friends did his BS and MS in mechE, developing a mechanically based medical sensor for his masters, and now he's the bee's knees with the surgeon technologists here and getting tremendous industry and academic funding support for all of his ventures.

What kind of long term career are you interested in?
 
OP
Nucleophobe
Jun 17, 2010
23
0
Status
Pre-Medical
Thank you for the feedback. Finals kept me busy so it took me a while to remember to check back.

I find Biomechatronics and Biomechanics extremely interesting, and have read that these are quickly expanding as the number of veterans increases and the demographics of America change.

However, being a resident of Montana and performing my undergraduate work in Idaho, my exposure to individuals in any field of Bioengineering has been quite limited.

Perhaps I should take a field trip to help me better understand my career path. Would you have any recommendations for how to gain literacy in these fields and meet more people? I was looking at joining the BME society today but wondered how much it would actually help.