brotherbu

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Hey,

Is anyone interested in posting whatever unique summer experiences you may have had as an undergrad that gave you insight into a career in research? I think this could help a lot of us undergrad in picking these kind of opportunities to not only improve our chances of getting into an MSTP program, but to help us understand what research is about and to get an overall better undergrad experience.
 

dave613

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brotherbu said:
Hey,

Is anyone interested in posting whatever unique summer experiences you may have had as an undergrad that gave you insight into a career in research? I think this could help a lot of us undergrad in picking these kind of opportunities to not only improve our chances of getting into an MSTP program, but to help us understand what research is about and to get an overall better undergrad experience.
In the summer of my freshman year, I did a microbiology research internship under the NYC HRTP program. Again, all of these summer research programs are ridiculously competitive to get into, though i'm not quite sure why. My experience there definitely solidified my interest in MD/PhD because I realized that I enjoyed understanding and dicovering new things in science, and i loved working and collaberating with scientists.I always had a passion for medicine since I want to help people through my best academic abilities. However, the creativeness in research is certainly unparalleled. Finally, these surp programs are really a great experience since the PIs are instructed to teach you, and so you don't "float" around trying to figure out what's going on, usually you'll have a mentor. Though, if you're interested in MD/PhD, these summer programs are NOT going to cut it. You need to have numerous years of research experience. To prove this, I know an individual in my school, who did a couple of these fancy SURP programs, including rockefeller..etc, and he is not having the easiest time getting into programs. Furthermore, in one of his SURP programs, he even became a second author on a CELL paper! but, I think his biggest downfall was not having the extensive research.

Good luck!
 

ChyLn

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I've done three summers of intensive research, where I worked full time at two labs. Each of these summers, I worked for approximately 15 weeks, full time. My two summers following graduating from high school was spent at a lab in home town.

Beginning in my sophomore summer, I scored a fellowship that funded me to work for two summers and the school year in between. I've been working in a lab at the medical school of my university. During the summer, I worked and studied for the MCATs. Now, I probably work close to 30 hrs a week in lab.

Personally, I feel like the most important thing to gain out of working in a lab is a thorough understanding of the work you were involved in; how it works and its significance. This type of experience is harder to gain through the summer research programs just because your time spent in the lab is so short. I don't really agree that you need "numerous" years of research experience, although most people that I know that are applying for MSTP do have a good 2-3 years under their belt. Again, what's important is a proper understanding and appreciation of your work.

Hope this was helpful :)
 

marctam86

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wow, what was the name of the 2 summer/ 1 year fellowship you did? it sounds really cool.

as a freshman, ive applied to 11 summer programs, and have been rejected by 2 and waitlisted by 2 thus far. :( They're a nice thing to do, but theyre hard to get into, and dont supercede extensive research that you could get done during the year.
 

tr

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Yeah, I went the SURF/SURP route as an undergrad as well.

In retrospect I think it was a bad idea for two reasons.

1) You never get to learn about a single area in depth, so you don't get publications and it is harder for you to sound intelligent when you talk about your research, since your familiarity with it is necessarily more shallow than that of someone who spent multiple years in the same lab.

2) You apply to the program, not the lab; so your choice of research laboratories is restricted. I think it's better to find something that interests you and then volunteer in a single lab in that area for a period of years.

The main reason I went this route is kind of dumb in retrospect: basically it was because these programs provided a stipend, whereas if you just show up in a lab as an undergrad it's volunteer work most of the time. Also I was worried my grades would suffer if I did lab work during the winter, which was a legitimate concern; but it's certainly possible to choose your hours as an undergrad volunteer, so I think I made too much of this as well. Not a very clever bit of prioritizing on my part; but it worked out OK for me in the end.
 

beary

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Boy, things must have changed since I was applying to MSTPs (about 7 years ago). I am from a very small liberal arts college with no significant research there. I spent a semester doing a "senior project" which I worked hard at but was dumb and certainly not publication-worthy. The summer before my senior year, I went to a HHMI undergraduate research program at Harvard which was a GREAT experience. I highly recommend such programs. I got out of the small school environment, got to meet some really cool people, and learned some techniques. Still, I didn't do anything publication-worthy. That's basically it in terms of my research experience and I got into several MSTP programs (otherwise good but I don't think off the charts grades and MCATs).
 

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From personal experience and my other friends who have applied mstp, I'd say the best way to maximize your summer research experience is to apply for fellowships and grants that fund your work in a lab of your choosing, such as the HHMI future scientist summer fellowships, this way you get the advantages of a SURP (stipend) and the flexibility of doing work where you find interesting and continuing it into the school year. During the school year, it is harder to find funding for labwork, but then again, the time spent in lab is usually far less than that spent during the summer.

Another problem with SURPS, at least for me, is that they're not usually offered at your home institution. Working at your home is advantageous because it gives you the opportunity to build up an intimate relationship and extensive foundation with the topic of your study and your lab mates, one that can be maintained throughout the school year even if your not working in lab.

In sum, SURPS give you opportunities to work in very good environments and experience some really good science, but as dave613 said, they just don't cut it when it comes to providing raw research experience.
 

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beary said:
Boy, things must have changed since I was applying to MSTPs (about 7 years ago). I am from a very small liberal arts college with no significant research there. I spent a semester doing a "senior project" which I worked hard at but was dumb and certainly not publication-worthy. The summer before my senior year, I went to a HHMI undergraduate research program at Harvard which was a GREAT experience. I highly recommend such programs. I got out of the small school environment, got to meet some really cool people, and learned some techniques. Still, I didn't do anything publication-worthy. That's basically it in terms of my research experience and I got into several MSTP programs (otherwise good but I don't think off the charts grades and MCATs).
As with everything, I think MSTPs are getting more competitive these days. There is a lot more information out there about what is required (perhaps largely transmitted through boards like this one), with the result that current applicants are really on the ball wrt research.

When I was applying, I didn't know anyone else who was interested in these programs, nor did I have any clear idea about what the requirements were, other than the vague general criterion of 'research experience,' which I tried to acquire as best I knew how. I had no pubs when I applied, and as indicated above most of my ugrad research was disconnected summer stuff (although I did work about 20 h/wk in a lab during my senior year, when I was taking a smaller courseload, and took a year off after to tech as well).

The applicants I see now are a different story. I'd say at least half of them have pubs, and maybe 1/4-1/5 have first-author pubs. All of them have spent much more time than I did on research during undergrad. The result is that they are much savvier and better educated about their science than I was 5 years ago, and most of them also have much clearer ideas about the type of research that interests them.
 
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brotherbu

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The general take here is quite interesting, and there are many good points.... I have participated in SURF programs at Mt. Sinai and the Mayo Clinic, and I plan on doing one more this summer (accepted into Sloan-Kettering). I, however, feel like that these experiences have been very valuable and great overall opportunities to learn so much within a 10 week timeframe.

That being said, I agree with the people on this thread that summer experiences cannot make up for long-term research projects. I have been working at the same lab for the past two years. I love it there, but I feel young and naive, so I want to go out and experience different kinds of research with different kinds of people at different types of locations. I feel like these programs open my perspectives. I learn so much about other research going on besides that in my own lab. I learn about different philosophies of science from different mentors and get the opportunity to meet with highly successful people at highly regarded institutions. I know I'm more likely to get sig. publications at my school lab as opposed to these, but there is so much to experience with them...

I agree that it is harder to get a grasp of the science from summer programs, but it is by no means impossible. I got so interested in my research at Mayo (nitric oxide stuff) that I did lots of literature review during my time there. I feel confident i could discuss this with adcom relatively well.

That's just my opinion.....I agree wholeheartedly that year-long research gives you more depth than summer programs, but if you work in a lab during the academic year, it is to your advantage to expand your experiences with a summer program.
 

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It is good to see that more undergrads these days are looking at MD/PhD as a serious option. This generation suffers from the relative dearth of physician-scientists and this bump-up in interest is encouraging.
 

dave613

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brotherbu said:
The general take here is quite interesting, and there are many good points.... I have participated in SURF programs at Mt. Sinai and the Mayo Clinic, and I plan on doing one more this summer (accepted into Sloan-Kettering). I, however, feel like that these experiences have been very valuable and great overall opportunities to learn so much within a 10 week timeframe.

That being said, I agree with the people on this thread that summer experiences cannot make up for long-term research projects. I have been working at the same lab for the past two years. I love it there, but I feel young and naive, so I want to go out and experience different kinds of research with different kinds of people at different types of locations. I feel like these programs open my perspectives. I learn so much about other research going on besides that in my own lab. I learn about different philosophies of science from different mentors and get the opportunity to meet with highly successful people at highly regarded institutions. I know I'm more likely to get sig. publications at my school lab as opposed to these, but there is so much to experience with them...

I agree that it is harder to get a grasp of the science from summer programs, but it is by no means impossible. I got so interested in my research at Mayo (nitric oxide stuff) that I did lots of literature review during my time there. I feel confident i could discuss this with adcom relatively well.

That's just my opinion.....I agree wholeheartedly that year-long research gives you more depth than summer programs, but if you work in a lab during the academic year, it is to your advantage to expand your experiences with a summer program.
If you conduct research throughout your academic years, and you attend these surp programs, then you're fine in terms of having enough experience for MD/PhD programs.I have a lot of personal issues with respect to surp programs, including sloan kettering, but i'll save that for a pm, if you're interested.
 

ChyLn

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I guess I should've clarified. Summer research fellowships at other labs are excellent opportunities to experience different perspectives in labvs, as brotherbu said. I just don't think they are sufficient in and of themselves to provide you the focus that you need to experience research to as much as an extent as you can as an undergraduate.
 

Habari

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alternatively one may consider industry - i worked at merck research labs for 3 summer with the same p.i.. The pay is quite a bit more than any academic summer stipend i've seen (that in itself necessitated that i pursue this route) and it is a very different view of research.

my interviewers at all schools were interested in this experience, perhaps because they spend more and more time interacting with industry. i thought the experience was worthwhile and interesting. as a bonus i realized that i will never join industry after graduating - quite valuable to know.
 

tedrik

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Habari said:
as a bonus i realized that i will never join industry after graduating - quite valuable to know.
I'd like to second what Habari said regarding industry. I spent one summer at UCLA (if you go to a UC, I would suggest looking into the UC LEADS program), but I wish I would have spent at least one summer in industry. I went over to one of my labs collaborating biotech companies to learn a technique and it gave me some great insight into what it means to work for a company.
 

Newquagmire

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It is good to see that more undergrads these days are looking at MD/PhD as a serious option. This generation suffers from the relative dearth of physician-scientists and this bump-up in interest is encouraging.
yeah, i'm pretty surprised at how much ugrads seem to know these days. i didn't even know these "surp"s existed until after i had already graduated...

if you're finding these things too competitive, don't let it discourage you. nobody said it had to be a fancy program. as another poster mentioned, you can find a lab separately either at your home institution or away. it's ridiculously simple.
 

byong_soo

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Holy crap
I did not know they were looking for extensive long-term research experience!! #%!#
omg how come I was not informed of this by my peers? =(
Right now I'm a third year, and I'm working in my ... 4th lab. Two during summer (surp's), one during sophomore schoolyear. One right now during junior schoolyear.

I actually liked it this way because I could explore different fields and explore what I liked. But shoot I had no clue that this would be a disadvantage! =( Should I delay one year, and build a longer lab experience at the current lab? Can anyone give me a advice as far as my research experience situation?

I do agree about intimate relationship building. The two summers were definitely not enough.
 

huknows00

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I have a general question on the relative difficulty and importance of getting into these SURP programs. I have applied to four and got rejected by one, wait listed by another, and for the other two I have no chance since they are for minorities and I am not technically a underrepresented minority. So it seems my summer plans are shot to hell.

Up until now I thought I had a pretty competitive app, 3 years of research, every summer in between, and one co-author and one school publication. The fact that I'm having trouble getting into the summer programs is putting serious doubts into my competitiveness for the MSTP's. I have a pretty strong GPA, especially since I'm in engineering and our GPA's are deflated as hell. I have some volunteer work and expect to get mid- 30's on the MCATS when i take it next month.

So help me out guys. What areas do you think I could improve on, while I still have a few months before I apply to the MSTP programs this year. My other option is start working in my senior thesis lab this summer, and try to hammer out a few more pubs from my previous lab. Do you guys think I need more clinical research or volunteering experience? Since up to now I have had bascically none.
 
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brotherbu

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Do not get discouraged Huhknows. A lot of these programs get a lot of similar applicants and use a lot of BS techniques to weed out applicants. Last summer, I applied to the NYU summer program. At that time, I had a 3.9 gpa, one year of research including another summer program at Mt. Sinai. I was rejected, and when I asked why, I was told that my GPA did was weeded out....turns out they had more 4.0 applicants than they did space, and that they only considered the 4.0 applicants and weeded out the rest, w/o even considering their other credentials.

The reason that some of these programs are so huge are b/c they are coveted by md/phd, phd, and no doubt md applicants. I know several md-only applicants who BSed on their application about how they wanted to get a PhD and do research all their lives. THey did a hand poll when I was at mayo and about 40% of those their were only interested in the MD. It is sad, but true...I discussed this with one md/phd student who worked for an adcom and he said that the mstp programs are not so anal about weeding among the high gpa's. They are more interested in your entire profile, particularly your research.

Also, look at the types of programs you are applying to...NYU and Baylor are highly highly publicized and get a ridiculous amount of applicants (3X the amount of the most popular MSTP programs). There are other programs to look into that have more renowned research, but are less known to undergrads. These include Rockefeller, Sloan-Kettering, Cold Springs Harbor, etc. THe NIH is also really good. YOu can contact faculty directly....They are definitely more interesed in what you have done as opposed to your #s.

All in all, don't get discouraged at all...summer programs applicants are treated more unfairly than actual MSTP programs. Good luck
 

javert

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byong_soo said:
Right now I'm a third year, and I'm working in my ... 4th lab. Two during summer (surp's), one during sophomore schoolyear. One right now during junior schoolyear.

...

Should I delay one year, and build a longer lab experience at the current lab? Can anyone give me a advice as far as my research experience situation?
It sounds like you have plenty of research experience to be competitive for MSTPs. On the interview trail you'll run in to applicants that are in the same situation that you're in and people like me who have spent all of my time in the same lab (I seem to be in the minority--at one school they handed out a sheet listing every interviewee's research exerience, and out of the 20 people there were only two that worked in a single lab). It seems that working in 2-4 labs is the norm, and if I had it to do over again, I would have spent some time in a lab in a different area of interest.

As long as you have good LORs from all of your research mentors, it sounds like you should be in good shape, but since I haven't worked in multiple labs, I'm probably not the best person to make an assessment like this.

How many hours did you spend in the lab during the school year? If you're worried that you need to spend more time in the same lab, can't you just continue working in the same lab you're in now during the summer and/or during the next school year?
 

javert

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brotherbu said:
Do not get discouraged Huhknows.
Ditto. I'm first-hand proof that you don't need to participate in these programs to be competitive. As I said in response to byong_soo's post, I've spent all of my time in the same lab; during the summers I obtained funding from summer programs at my university, but these programs were neither very competitive nor prestigious.

Since I never applied to these programs, I can't really address your question (and it seems that brotherbu has done a nice job of doing that anyway), but in addition to telling you not to be discouraged, I did want to make one comment...

huknows00 said:
My other option is start working in my senior thesis lab this summer
This is what I did last summer and in general I would recommend it. Except for some tidying up, I was able to finish all of my work for my senior thesis before starting my senior year, and thus interviewing has not gotten in the way of completing my thesis. In fact, for much of this year I have spent my time in the lab doing one of three things: writing programs (my lab has taken a bit of a computational turn), preparing posters, or writing papers, all three of which can be done on the road. :D
 

marctam86

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what have your experiences with SURP waitlists been like? is there alot of movement? Right now, Im on sloan ketterings and mssm's waitlist, and I wonder if I actually have a shot.
 

dave613

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marctam86 said:
what have your experiences with SURP waitlists been like? is there alot of movement? Right now, Im on sloan ketterings and mssm's waitlist, and I wonder if I actually have a shot.
Last year, I was on MSSM's waiting list, and I was never accepted. The reason was because they only accepted 4.0s, and 3.99s. I know this for a fact since my gpa was above 3.9 as well at the time. You should find out where you are located on the waitlist, if you aren't within the top ten, your chances are very slim. To quote Joel Oppenhiem, who is dean of the surp program at NYU, he said that the SURP program is more difficult to get into than their MSTP program. So, don't worry about not getting accepted. Their standards for weeding out, as Brotherbu said, are absurd. It's a real shame.

Good luck waiting!