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Undergraduate Research

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by senbonzakura, Dec 5, 2005.

  1. senbonzakura

    senbonzakura New Member

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    Right now, I'm in my second year of undergraduate work as a Biology-Chemistry combined major and I'm thinking about applying to MSTPs. What kind of research should I start getting involved in? Should I do research with my chemistry professors or should I be doing more biology-type research? Does my research need to be in any particular field of study to be considered seriously? I'm not even sure if any research I do will be published, as I'm only an undergrad working with the professor, but from what I have read, being able to talk about research that you've worked on is a great benefit when applying to MD/PhD.

    Any advice is appreciated, thanks.
     
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  3. SeventhSon

    SeventhSon SIMMER DOWN
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    some will say ideally something involved with medicine, but other places will say anything in the basic sciences is fine. THat being said, the research lab i get the most comments/interest about from interviewers is one that deals with the basic science side of a medical issue, namely, estrogen/progesterone replacement therapy, while I get a smaller amount of interest in my summer internship ina physical chemistry lab.

    I guess the bottom line is do something that interests you and if you're not sure, then yeah do something a little more transitional than basic-science heavy.
     
  4. hawkeey

    hawkeey Member
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    First of all, see this thread:

    http://forums.studentdoctor.net/showthread.php?t=243436

    Do research that are you interested in. If it interests you more, you will spend more time on the project and get a lot more out of it. When you go out and do interviews you will encounter people from all kinds of backgrounds, from pure MD to pure PhD. Heck, I even talked to a guy who did research in nuclear and plasma physics. If you find that you like doing the physical or organic chemistry, then there are plenty of programs that will let you pursue your interests.

    There are even programs that allow people to do research in the humanities or the social sciences (ie. University of Illinois).

    There is some value of doing work in a few different labs; this will give a better idea of what kind of fields you want to work in for the PhD portion, but may give you less time to produce publishable research. So if some other lab's research interests, spend a semester or a summer working there. You can use a REU or a HHMI fellowship to get away from your lab for a summer if you wish. I've worked both in theoretical and experimental labs, and people seem to find that really interesting; I feel it also makes me a better scientist for having that experience.

    I would not see publishing a paper as a goal as an undergraduate, just a side effect. If you find something that you are passionate about, then do it. Don't go crazy that you are not getting a paper out; science does not always work the way you want.

    This is the one point in your academic career that you will have the opportunity to really explore and learn something about yourself. Use it wisely.
     
  5. izibo

    izibo Senior Member
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    I did research on molecular biology in a plant system and I got in to a couple of great programs. Just about anything should work.
     
  6. solitude

    solitude Senior Member
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    Agreed, although you should probably stick to basic or translational research. Once you stray into clinical or psychology-type softer research, you may run into troubles. I think as long as your research is in a science department and you spend a significant amount of time in the lab, it's fine. Just my opinion though.
     
  7. senbonzakura

    senbonzakura New Member

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    Wow, I did not expect to see posts this quickly on my question. At my college, there are quite a lot of professors in both fields that I might be able to do research with, but the primary advisor for my major, a biologist involved with cancer research suggested that I do work with a chemist first, then work with MDs and MD/PhDs over the summer in some sort of internship. However, the advisor for the chemistry side (organic chemist) says that while professors do allow undergrads to work on research, they would much rather the student stay at one research position through their undergrad years. He says that as an undergrad, I don't know that many laboratory techinques and need to be trained, but switching from chemistry to biology would require completely different training altogether, making a prof. wary of taking a student that would just leave for another position, requiring the prof to train another student.

    So really, the question is, what would adcoms like to see more?
     
  8. hawkeey

    hawkeey Member
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    Admission committees do not really care about what research you are doing; they just want you to do research so you know what research is. Your undergraduate research and graduate research will likely be quite different.

    I should clarify the above statement. Admission committees will care about how are you able to explain your research both in your essays and your interviews. Most people will do research in biology because that is where most MDs come from, but a fair number are coming from chemistry and biological chemistry.

    You are right that professors do not want to take on undergraduates for short periods of time. Join a lab that will interest you so that doing research is fun and not work.

    If you want, work in an organic chemistry lab for the academic year. If you're interested in biology, then go for one that has more of biological / pharmasuetical tilt to it.

    During your summers you have a choice between staying on campus and working in the lab or going for some internship (SURF, HHMI, etc.) somewhere else.
     
  9. solitude

    solitude Senior Member
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    Agreed. Stick with one lab for a few years and see how it goes. After that length of time (and less for many people ) you should be able to clearly articulate how it influenced your decision to choose MDPHD, what you learned from the research, etc.

    Coincidentally, I am a second year double major in Biology and Chemistry too. I've been working in the same lab this year that I did during last summer, and I plan to keep working in during the next two summers and academic years. For one, I love the lab and the research and the PI is great, and I think it will work out for adcoms because it really shows commitment, and with that huge amount of time I should be able to get some substantial abstracts and maybe even a paper or two. Admittedly, if I jumped around to a few labs then I would learn more techniques, but luckily the lab I am in is highly conducive to "teaching" me techniques despite being top-notch in its field. I would recommend finding a lab like this. Look for assistant professors that are in their second or third year. They will be young enough to relate to you, not quite famous enough to have no time for you, and will be full of excitement and great research ideas. By that time they have a well-established lab and funding, but their lab isn't so huge that you get lost in a sea of post-docs. And they won't come up for tenure until you have graduated, so you won't be forced to switch labs right before writing your senior thesis. I have found these types of labs to generally have grad students and postdocs that will be more willing to take time to help you out with stuff, simply because the real gunner grad students and postdocs like to work with the HHMI investigators and chaired professors.
     
  10. Ultra7

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    Whichever lab you choose, I would recommend staying in a single lab for at least 2 years rather than jumping from lab to lab. Not only will you be more useful to the prof you are working for (since s/he benefits for longer from the training s/he provides you with), you will be a more appealing MSTP candidate because you will be more knowledgable about your area. Also, I believe the adcoms prefer depth over breadth; get to know one area of research really well. As a grad student, you'll need to be in one lab for many years! Anything basic science/translational should be fine, as other posters stated. And choose your mentor wisely; pick someone you admire, respect, and like.
     
  11. senbonzakura

    senbonzakura New Member

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    Once again, thanks for your posts, they helped me a lot in selecting a professor to work with. Next semester, I'm going to work with a new biochemistry professor on some work with enzymes - she said that while it might not be the most intensive work as I'm just starting out, I'll learn a lot of techniques as I go along. She's a new hire, so she's still setting up her lab, but I think that that will allow for a better working relationship perhaps leading to one of the LORs that someday, I'll have to ask for. Besides, it seems that the newest faculty are the ones with the most interesting ideas of stuff to research.
     
  12. lwong

    lwong Member
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    What do transitional and basic sciences refer to? How do the two differ in the subjects of research?
     
  13. solitude

    solitude Senior Member
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    Sounds like a great selection for a mentor. Let us know how it goes!
     

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