Research - Small role in multiple projects or lead on one project

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2+ Year Member
Dec 6, 2018
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Hey SDN,

I'm a current MS2, about to take Step 1 and then taking a gap year to finish my MPH before returning for rotations. A lot of competitive residencies look for research, and I know many applicants to these specialties have multiple research projects on their CV. Here's my question: is it better to have multiple projects, in which you had a minor role, or have one or two projects where you played a major role and did most of the work?

I'm starting a project with my mentor; it's just the two of us, and I'm doing the majority of the work. He is mainly advising and helping with logistics, as I'm new to research and this is my first project I've worked on. This is a project I really care about and I'm really interested in, and I want to focus on this instead of tagging along on other projects just to "fluff" up my CV. We are in the early stages, but I'm hoping it could potentially lead to a few publications (not trying to jinx myself or get too eager though).
What are your thoughts?

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Why not both?
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You got a real project right now where you are in control and will be a primary author.
Often times, you can put in the same amount of time, and end up with the same number of minor authors pubs.
It's not like you can guarantee 5X 2nd author vs. 1 primary author. In a hypothetical situation where you can......I think I'd take 5 second authorships over 1 first author...though there's no real conversion rate (idk). I'd take 1 primary authorship over 2 secondaries.

And in situations where you're minor author, it's oftentimes in situations you do not control. You work for someone much more powerful than you deciding your fate. And I've seen times where people get scammed and they don't get put on the pubs at all. And there's not a thing you can do about it.

So I say, you're in a safe spot right now where you're in a position to decide your own fate.
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For a competitive specialty? Both. Have a few projects where you took the lead and are the lead author. Then more projects where you're a middle author. Shows that you can both lead projects and also be a team player on other projects. Also looks better to have more line items on CV.
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You need to do both. Traditionally, you need to lead one or two projects and get them at least close to publication to "prove" your worth before you're going to be invited to "chip in" on other projects.
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If you anticipate continuing research into your residency +/- fellowship, taking the lead on a project will serve you better in the long run than taking minor roles in other projects, because you have a better idea of how the research project works. However, sometimes you can't get into a bigger project until you get experience working in smaller projects.

One of my faculty mentors is constantly getting research requests from medical students. Most of the time, they are assigned a role that has them doing data collection on a faculty or fellow project, in part because the ones that have time to do research are still early in medical school and thus don't understand the specialized questions that are being asked. The resident working with me on a project, though, is getting some gentle guidance on what needs to be done and is doing most of the work himself. But he also knows how to read the literature and analyze it, something that our medical student doesn't have a good grasp of yet.
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