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Sage advice for the second look

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by CancerKiller007, Jan 1, 2009.

  1. CancerKiller007

    CancerKiller007 mudphud wannabe
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    I know it is early, but the second look visit will be here in about 2 months or so. I know many of us will be deciding from multiple schools. It always helps if we have list of things to look for and compare it against other schools. I think it should make the decision process easier.

    Things I am gonna look for: quality of research, quality of pre-clinical education, "happiness" of the student, flexibility of the program....

    so now I am soliciting advice from current MD/PhD students (who have been through already) as well as my peers. Thanks!!
     
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  3. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    If I could do it over again, I would look for:

    a minimum of requirements
    a number of labs you want to work in with PIs you actually met
    a low recent average graduation time
    an area you want to live in (whatever is important there for you)
    flexibility is good, though a hard thing to judge

    Quality of pre-clinical education is the last thing I'd consider.
    Student happiness is very difficult, as you will mostly be with a bunch of chipper first years who in reality know little. The more senior students you can meet the better off you'll be gauging the realities of these programs.
     
  4. StIGMA

    StIGMA Doctor Professor
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    On a recent interview, the first year students said that one factor they used was if they meshed with the other revisiting students (of which 8 out of 9 or something ridiculous like that actually matriculated).
     
  5. StIGMA

    StIGMA Doctor Professor
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    Also: the MD/PhD administration itself is very important for me. If they have a history of improving the program, fighting for students, intervening with PI's for students to get out on time, and so on.

    Also, if the Dean of the med school/ the med school itself cherishes the MD/PhD students and if they are personally invested in the program also (ie: from a recent MD/PhD dinner at MD/PhD director's house... the dean of the school showed up just to talk to current MSTP students and to chat with the 10 interviewers who were there... he spent 30 minutes with me and another interviewer talking about himself, medicine, the school, why we would love it there, etc). Things like that make a significant difference to me (but only if the research is strong).
     
  6. dmblue

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    I'm not in this position yet, but the odds of it happening to me are reasonable.

    If one school has a lab that I am REALLY interested in but few other interesting labs, while the other school has many labs that I am interested in (but to a lesser degree), which would be the better choice?

    I would lean toward the first option, but if things didn't pan out with that lab, then I would be in trouble.
     
  7. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    Don't get caught up in sales pitches. If it's a university with a sizeable MD/PhD program, the medical school is very invested in the program.

    Go to the second is my advice. That one lab might move. That lab may not work out for a variety of reasons. My first through tenth lab choices didn't pan out. I'm glad I was at a place that is strong in many things.

    Hmmm, I wasn't invited to my school's second look and came off the waitlist real late. My classmates may not have come had they met me :laugh:

    In other words, this seems very minor to me. Yeah, if you end up with a bunch of *******s ok you might want to consider this. The odds of this happening are very low. You'll probably get along with just about everyone for a day or two for revisit. Everyone is trying to make a good impression and thus I think this is also a poor way to choose.
     
  8. sluox

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    This is interesting. I remember at my revisit (or was it interview), a certain Nobel laureate gave a talk about his research. It turned out I got to know this guy much better later, and I don't even know if he remembers who these folks were that he was talking to.

    Anyway, this is a good test of the pull of the MSTP director's politics, which CAN be VERY important.

    I agree with most of Neuronix's assessments. It's sort of hard to actually know a lot about the program. I'd say pick a program based on, not in a particular order
    (1) the city/location/other lifestyle factors
    (2) the medical school reputation
    (3) the quality of research in your area
    (4) specific labs
    (5) gut feelings

    the research/lab issue might not be as important as you think. I went to my school thinking i was gonna do research X. it turned out i hated X when i tried it. and it turned out that my eventual boss didn't even arrive at my school until my second year med school was finished. Life is VERY VERY random like that. On the other hand, a couple of excellent researchers LEFT my school, one to head the institute of regenerative medicine in a certain well-known CA school, the other went for a certain dept chair position in a midwestern school. Both of whom I would have CONSIDERED working for. Keep your eyes and mind open. I'd say the reputation of the school itself and the general macroscopic strength of the department is all you need to worry about. Going to a school for a specific person can be very dangerous.

    I have to say that it turned out that I liked almost all of the schools that accepted me, and schools that rejected me tended to be very antagonistic during interviews, esp. the kind with the infamous "panel" interviews. I can't think of anything like that at any level in medicine, and for a college senior who's barely 22...anyway...it's fun ruminating over the bygones.
     
  9. britishmafia

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    So I think all of my top choices have their revisit on the same weekend... April 3-5 or so...

    This is kind of frustrating.
     
  10. CancerKiller007

    CancerKiller007 mudphud wannabe
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    Well you are a legendary british mafia....i am sure you will find a way! Invent a time machine or teleporting?
     
  11. CancerKiller007

    CancerKiller007 mudphud wannabe
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    Neuronix, I have heard multiple time at those interviews from many current students that "the director is on your side". I.e. that the director is a good advocate and protects the MD/PhD students when either the med or grad school starts being unreasonable.

    How important is it to have a "friendly" director?

    Any advice or signs to look for to see if it is indeed the case or it is just smoke and mirror?

    Any current student is more than welcome to chime in. Thanks.
     
  12. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    To be honest, it's hard to gauge this from where I sit. You have to keep in mind that the #1 priority for an MD/PhD program director is to strengthen and grow their MD/PhD program with a minimum of problems. You will find out that all big name PIs and successful administrators are excellent politicans. A smile, an interest in you, a personal apperance... These are all necessary to be the big cheese. I'm not saying that these people fake their outgoingness for their position--they were probably decent people to begin with who have a genuine interest in career development.

    You can hunker down and be a total ***hole in your own lab and bring in the funding, but to run an MD/PhD program you have to negotiate with an MD program, a PhD program, students, and a multitude of PIs. It seems to be a relatively thankless job that helps detract from your own goals of supporting your research enterprise and whatever outside hobbies you have. So my point is, all directors are going to be friendly and generally well-viewed. Only the senior students are going to have a real viewpoint on how they feel about their own program's director, as junior students are not in a position to truely evaluate what's going on or to have been in trouble they needed to be bailed out of.

    That being said, the director also has to be a politican from other standpoints. The MD/PhD program has limited capital they can throw around to get the MD/PhD students what they want. Some directors highly go to bat in this regard, and others will tell you to deal with bad things because they're trying to reserve what power they have for when they really need it. Will your issue go ignored? Possibly. Is this a good idea for the good of the program? Possibly. Is your happiness the #1 thing for the growth and success of a program? It's a crucial factor, because nobody wants to see you drop out or kill yoruself, but it also has to be weighed in with the willingness of the NIH and the medical school to fund the program. This is politics at its finest and most necessary. Everyone sees things in different ways and there isn't necessarily a bad guy.

    So this is a long answer to say: it's complicated. There's no straightforward answer to this question. But, in general, all directors should probably be viewed as friendly and on the student's side unless you get some sense otherwise. At my own program I have heard many viewpoints about how the current director is viewed vis-a-vis the previous director. Everyone sees this differently. One thing that has definitely changed is there's more control and more rules in the current program in an attempt to streamline the program and cut back on problems that come from bad experiences in the past or from people taking advantage of laxity in the rules. Many senior students and some PIs feel this flexibility is a negative, as in personal situations sometimes this flexibility would help in various situations. But you can obviously see the appeal from running a large program smoothly and trying to protect your own students from bad things.

    Personally, I gleaned a lot about programs from interviewing at them. Did they seem disorganized on interview day? Did the MD/PhD office not respond to your queries or take forever to do so? Were other strange things happening? These are all signals of things to come if you're a current student there. On second look everyone is going to be on their tippy-toes and cheerful in a recruitment effort, but think back a bit and you might see some things that are concerning. I mean don't blame your interviewers for goofiness, unless you had a lot of them or something, but think about the MD/PhD staff/faculty/directors and think about how they seemed BEFORE you got that acceptance. Some schools do a better job of putting on the dog and pony show than others, but I still think I learned a lot from just that.

    I've never seen any student openly despise their MD/PhD program's director. If too many did, the director wouldn't be director for long. Ask the senior students how they feel about the administration. The honest ones will give you the same kind of mixed response I did. I doubt you'll find much hate and you'll likely find much love depending on who you ask. In the end, I'd consider this a very minor part of selecting a program.
     
    #11 Neuronix, Jan 4, 2009
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2009
  13. Sulfinator

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    How would you define "low" graduation time, Neuronix? 7 years or less? It's going to end up taking me 8 years, which has been pretty typical for our program. I know a minority at our program who have done it in 6 years and a couple that managed it in 7.
     
  14. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    What you're saying is the same at my program. I'm done in 7, but it was a hell of a battle and it's relatively rare. I think 6 year graduates are almost extinct at this point. I wrote a blog entry on this point. Nationally the average is around 8 years, +/- .5 months. You want to try to be on the - .5 side IMO.

    It's good to try to get the data for recent graduates, and not be fooled by data over the lifetime of a program (from back when the average was likely under 7 years!). Still, the lower the average recently the better imo. Even better is to find out for recent students in the graduate program you intend to join. At my program it seems obvious to me that certain programs are going to keep you longer than others (this is in the blog entry too).

    IMO, obvious thing to avoid #1 if possible: Teaching/TAing requirements. There's lots of other things too. Avoid the 3 rotation requirements. Avoid the 2 years of coursework requirements. Avoid having to write your pre-lim on something unrelated to your thesis. Avoid heavy publication requirements. Some state schools still have these extended rural medicine requirements for all med students, including MD/PhDs. Flexibility and low requirements on both the med and grad sides are key if you have your mind set on getting done quickly.
     

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