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Summer Choice for a Sophomore Undergrad

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by friendlybear, Mar 10, 2007.

  1. friendlybear

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    Hello folks, I make this post as after reading through the many other posts/threads made on this useful site. Particularly, I have noticed the phrase "depth, not breadth" come up several times when it comes to doing undergrad research.

    Question: Is it better to spend this summer at my university (not-so-famous, Purdue University) to start working on a project that I will be continuing in my junior year, or would it be better to go to work for a summer at a renowned institution on a different topic? Would research at a pedigree institution give me a better "hook" over other applicants?

    Background: I applied to nearly 10 places to work at this summer as an immunology or pharmacology intern, most of them at top institutions. For some reason I was rejected from quite a few of them already (Weill-Cornell, Johns Hopkins, UCSF, UCLA; all the good NIH labs told me they were crammed). The ones I haven't heard from yet are Mayo, UPenn and Yale. Given the feedback I've gotten so far from the other programs, I'm not very optimistic about the responses I'll get from the current unknowns. However, with a 3.83 and as a junior-status sophomore, I thought I had a chance, even if I was Asian. (I did have a C on my transcript, but I'm retaking that class; gosh, I was stupid for taking a super-hard grad class in freshman year)

    I recently talked with the prof I was going to work under next academic year (in other words, starting this fall) about this and asked if I could work in his lab for the summer should I be rejected everywhere! :( He told me he would love to have me in his lab for the summer; one particular phrase of his that's ingrained in my mind from the conversation: "My hope is that once you start working in my laboratory, you'll never want to get out". He seems very earnest in wanting to teach me and train me. BTW, the professor is an organic synthetic chemist in the drug discovery field; last year his lab came out with this anti-HIV drug called Darunavir.

    So, I'm torn. The benefits of working in the other places suddenly seem balanced by my professor's offer; however, something in the back of my mind keeps putting the other schools at the top because of their great name. I really don't know what to do. The only thing I do know is that this is probably something that will decide my career path as an MD/PhD (MSTP) applicant. Please give me some feedback!
     
  2. OncDoc19

    OncDoc19 MS4
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    I would go with the research at your home institution - the longer you work on one project the better. You can always apply next year for summer programs at those "top institutions". Also consider pre-MD/PhD programs offered at many institutions. Many are for URMs only, but many are not. For example the one I got into this summer at Iowa is not and is biased towards non-Iowans.
     
  3. Jorje286

    Jorje286 Member
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    Yes, I agree with that too. I don't think the institution matters that much. If he's willing to give you your own independent project, then don't hesitate. The summer research you'll do cannot be compared to a year long research project where you really dig in into lab life.
     
  4. Circumflex

    Circumflex Junior Member
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    Same here - I agree. If the PI at your school is doing work that drug companies are interested in, he's doing good work. You'll have a better chance of publishing something the longer you are in the lab. Save yourself some worries and stay put.
     
  5. OP
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    friendlybear

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    Thanks for replying everyone!

    You know, you guys just might be right. In fact, Circumflex's comment was hit on something I was really worried about. I really wanted to get a publication out so I could have something to stand on as an MSTP applicant.

    The main goal of getting into the top rep summer programs was originally to have a publication from a pedigree school. I was originally buoyed up by the hope that I could work hard enough in ten weeks to make a publication, but lately, I have realized this is probably impossible unless I get into a lab that is already finishing up a project. This comes hand-in-hand with recognizing that some of the research topics I was interested in are rather frontier-type stuff and would probably take a while to mature fully into an accomplishment. A Johns Hopkins doctor told me there was a 50:50 chance; an Abbott (pharma company) senior scientist told me that it wasn't likely for undergrads. From your experiences, has this proven to be true?

    If your opinions on summer publications are negative, then I'll probably stay at my university for the summer. Look forward to hearing more feedback!

    P.S-OncDoc19, I'm still stunned at your credentials (yeah, I read your thread before). You have opened up a whole new field of extracurriculars that I see as essential to becoming a good applicant. My only question: did you start on these things right away as a freshman? Just worried about catching up to your level when I apply next year.
     
  6. Coclean

    Coclean Field Rat
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    As an undergraduate I did research summers at two "big name" schools. My experience at each was different. In my first summer away from campus (at UCSF SRTP) I worked in a lab I was very excited about, did some important work for a publication that came out in Nature (ie two of 5 figures were mine - experiments, text, and paragraphs written in the paper) and was left off the publication because a collaborating PI didn't think undergrads should have publications. In the end it didn't matter because the letter of rec that the PI I worked for wrote states these facts very frankly and I end up with credit as far as applications are concerned.

    The second summer turned into a 3 year research collaboration that has bourne 3 publications...not over that summer, but in subsequent time.

    In all, my summers away from "home" were very productive....especially as they were more related to my ultimate research interests than the research I did for 4 years from my home campus (great lab, great mentor, good research....just not my life-long interest).

    In the particular case mentioned here I think you would be better off staying at your campus (and by the way purdue is not an "unknown" campus), but I don't think this is always the case. For the most part you aren't going to get publications....not without a LOT of experience at the bench. I started publishing after about 4 continuous years of bench experience and have projects (in a different lab) I have worked on for 4 years (structural biology) that STILL published nothing. Whether you get publications really depends on the field you work in and the project you do. I think you should pick the experience that will allow you to best explore if MD/PhD is right for you, and if you like research. You may find that worrying about publishing isn't what you want to do with your life anyways.....you have plenty of time!
     
  7. OncDoc19

    OncDoc19 MS4
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    Personally I think the qualityof the research and the amount of time you have devoted to it is more important than a publication. (maybe that's because I don't have one though :laugh: ) Its true that I'm working on preparing a history paper for publication, but who knows if it will get accepted. The lab that I do my honor project in is a protein crystallography lab and unfortunately this field is a lot of luck. There are 2 other undergrads in this lab, one got crystals her first month and myself and the other person have been working for over a year with nothing. The key is to convey what you learned from your research, and present this is a positive light. So I don't have a science pub, but I have certainly learned about the ups and downs of scientific research and the patientce it takes to do research. This is something MSTP programs worry about becuase the majority of everything you do in lab won't work and they want to make sure you can handle that without getting down on yourself.
    The other good thing that has come out of this lab is that I have known the PI now for over 2 years and have gotten previous LORs from him, including one that got me into the pre-MD/PhD program at Iowa, so although I don't have a pub I have fostered a great LOR from a professor who has been my advisor, professor and PI.

    The possiblity of a summer publication depends in large part on the type of lab your are going to be working in. I think the most important part of a summer research project is the ability to complete it in the summer. Some projects take longer than others so you should pick a summer lab based on what project they have for you and how long it takes to complete. For example, this summer I am going to do a molecular epidemiology project that has a set protocol for data collection on a set number of prevously collected DNA samples. I go through the protocol for each sample and collect data, then with an epidemiologist I will analyze the data for correlations between the disease and specific DNA sequence changes. Now its certainly possible that I won't find a correlation, but I know I will be able to complete the project in 8-10 weeks and that if the results are positive, the work is publishable. The only way to find a project like this is to talk to proferssors at whatever institution you will be doing the research at.

    Thanks for the compliment! I hope the schools I apply to feel the same :scared:. I didn't start everything my freshman year. I ran track and cross country at my school, and let me assure you there is not much free time when you are doing division 1 athletics. I also did volunteering at the Blood Bank and through a volunteer organization associated with the athletic department called Hawkeye Pride - through that organization I did long term volunteering at an elementary school as well as short-term volunteering at a nursing home and the Ronald McDonald House. Of course I worked hard at keeping my grades up, but that was hard because I had a couple of major surgeries realted to running injuries that put me behind in my classes. I also did some shadowing the summer after my freshman year. I stopped running late in my sophomore year because my grades weren't what I wanted, I wanted more time to volunteer and work and I was always getting hurt :mad: !

    Keep in mind as well, that I am taking 5 years to complete my two majors, so I have had an extra year than you will when you apply. Its not about playing catch-up. I think the more important thing is that you choose activities you enjoy and are passionate about them. For example, I am interested in end of life care issues, so I volunteer at Hospice. That being said, START NOW expecially if you don't have many ECs yet. I also think I've just been lucky in finding the jobs I have - that being said you have to be proactive and if you have to, make your own opportunities! Good luck and feel free to ask me anything else you have questions about, oh and also see my response to ryouland in the other thread as it pertains to planning your college coursework.
     
  8. OP
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    friendlybear

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    OncDoc19, your recommendations to the other fellow included putting on an extra year in order to attain enough research experience. Hmm...This could solve many problems simultaneously since it would give more time towards getting in more research, volunteer work, and studying for MCAT. Thanks for letting me know about this: extra efforts and sacrifices are necessary!:)

    A minor issue about the extra year that I'm sure you've thought about as well: will admissions committees give accomplishments from the extra year less regard, because it seems like an unfair advantage over the regular 4-years? Like, my accomplishments would be done because I had more time, not because I was a genius multi-tasker. I'd like your feedback on this just to be safe.

    Onto another thing you mentioned in your reply: while I agree with you that it's important to do things I like, I think there are simply things that "must" be done in order to be successful, in particular physician shadowing and volunteering. I'll admit that I want to be a physician scientist so I could study immunological diseases firsthand with hopes for devising better treatments for these patients; problem is, volunteering at a hospital at my level doesn't seem like it will give me such specific access. Hence volunteering for these seems to be more of a grind than a passion/hobby; helping kids to like science (oh, that controversial topic of evolution) appears to be the same genre. (However, today has been a revolution for my mind already, so I wouldn't be surprised if you dispelled that notion) Oh well, I suspect my attitude towards these is simply due to the curse of human fear of the unknown: I sincerely hope these humanisitic activities will turn out to be enjoyable.:rolleyes:

    Thanks Coclean, I feel reassured that some summer projects are finishable. I will certainly do some background reading in case I get accepted to the 3 places that haven't rejected me yet, so that I can fix upon a completable project. I guess the trick seems to be working on a topic that isn't too easy? Else it might seem unimportant :sleep:.
     
  9. NGN47

    NGN47 Member
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    I would say if you are interested in the work at Purdue, then you should stay there. From your description it seems like the PI is very encouraging of your future and would be a good mentor. But all things considered, the summer research programs you have applied to would be great as well.
     
  10. OncDoc19

    OncDoc19 MS4
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    Certainly having another year is an advantage, however, its better in my opinion to be the best applicant possible the first time around then have to reapply and certainly its more of a red flag to not have gotten in the first time than it is to have taken an extra year. However, I see what you mean. I am taking 5 years to finish because I have two majors, and although they are related only a 2 class overlap between majors is allowed for the interdepartmental studies major. So I guess what I'm saying is that if you take 5 years you need have a good reason for it and you need to work hard every year so that when people look at your activities they don't say "he should have been able to do this in 4 but instead he slacked off and did it in 5) I think , however, that its perfectly acceptable to say that you took an extra year in order to work on the weak areas of your application so that you would be the best cadidate you could be when you applyed the first time around. Not everyone applies right after college and if you read many of the other posts in this board and in the pre-allo you will see that a lot of people take a year off after school. You could even think about another major if you wanted. Just don't take a year off so that you don't have to do as much each year!

    Rereading my last post I think I wasn't clear enough. What I meant is that although there certainly are things you must do to get in, for example, patient-contact volunteering. Now there are many different organizations and ways that you can do this, but what I was saying is that you should pick an organization that serves a population you can relate to in some way. This helps make these activites not so much of a chore. Although I don't have an aversion to these activites, I certainly wouldn't have done as much given my heavy school load, lab and work.

    ECs help the adcoms to get to know you better and see what other interests you have, plus when they ask you about an acitivty it will definately help to be able to talk about it with some interest. I'm sure you can find some organization that you will enjoy. There are way more opportunites out there than just volunteering at a hospital, in fact if you look at my MDApps you will notice that I didn't do any hospital volunteering. I actually would recommend against doing that unless you will have a unique opportunity at a certain hospital because every pre-med volunteers at a hospital.
     
  11. OncDoc19

    OncDoc19 MS4
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    Certainly having another year is an advantage, however, its better in my opinion to be the best applicant possible the first time around then have to reapply and certainly its more of a red flag to not have gotten in the first time than it is to have taken an extra year. However, I see what you mean. I am taking 5 years to finish because I have two majors, and although they are related only a 2 class overlap between majors is allowed for the interdepartmental studies major. So I guess what I'm saying is that if you take 5 years you need have a good reason for it and you need to work hard every year so that when people look at your activities they don't say "he should have been able to do this in 4 but instead he slacked off and did it in 5) I think , however, that its perfectly acceptable to say that you took an extra year in order to work on the weak areas of your application so that you would be the best cadidate you could be when you applyed the first time around. Not everyone applies right after college and if you read many of the other posts in this board and in the pre-allo you will see that a lot of people take a year off after school. You could even think about another major if you wanted. Just don't take a year off so that you don't have to do as much each year!

    Rereading my last post I think I wasn't clear enough. What I meant is that although there certainly are things you must do to get in, for example, patient-contact volunteering. Now there are many different organizations and ways that you can do this, but what I was saying is that you should pick an organization that serves a population you can relate to in some way. This helps make these activites not so much of a chore. Although I don't have an aversion to these activites, I certainly wouldn't have done as much given my heavy school load, lab and work.

    ECs help the adcoms to get to know you better and see what other interests you have, plus when they ask you about an acitivty it will definately help to be able to talk about it with some interest. I'm sure you can find some organization that you will enjoy. There are way more opportunites out there than just volunteering at a hospital, in fact if you look at my MDApps you will notice that I didn't do any hospital volunteering. I actually would recommend against doing that unless you will have a unique opportunity at a certain hospital because every pre-med volunteers at a hospital.
     
  12. AtmaWeapon

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    Is it really that much of a red flag if you don't get in the first time and then reapply the following year? I thought it would be okay if it's just the second time and you show some good improvements. I plan on applying after my 5th year and I *could* wait a 6th year but the earlier the better right. :)
     
  13. ophidianphan

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    make sure you really like ORGO too. You might end up jumping off a bridge in that type of lab if you're really into the medical/biological side of things. That is pure chemistry, the type of stuff most straight medical students would neve touch if they didnt have to.

    If you're into synthesis though, thats a killer opportunity. And its a great field to be in, there's always a job in that if med school isnt what you end up doing.
     
  14. OP
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    friendlybear

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    Ophidianphan, organic chemistry was one of my favorite classes. Killer class, but nevertheless entertaining. Although I sucked at organic chem lab, I ruled in solving paper problems (drawing out mechanisms, knowing reactions and electron flow). Hence, once I train hard enough to make myself a good experimentalist and lab worker, it should be fun.

    I've decided to stay at Purdue for the summer, and follow everybody's advice. The final straw was when I mentioned this issue to the associate dean of my department and he seconded all of your opinions. Hopefully this will give a headstart on making a successful project in the next 1-2 years. If it doesn't, well, at least I will have gained a tremendous amount of lab experience. Either way, it should be a plus on med apps later on down the road.

    Thanks for writing, everybody!:D
     

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