Unsure about applying Md/PhD

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by Dr. Retractor, 09.24.14.

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  1. Dr. Retractor

    Dr. Retractor 2+ Year Member

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    As the title says, I am not sure about applying to MSTP programs. I'm reasonably competitive with a ~3.8 GPA and >36 average on my AAMC practice MCAT tests, as well as good non-clinical extracurriculars, and about 70 hours of shadowing and no clinical volunteering at this point (will work on it).

    I have about 2 years of research in epidemiology, and will have about 1.5 years of basic science (neuroscience) research by the time I apply. I foresee having 3 non-first author papers published by application, as well as 2 first author abstracts/posters and 2 presentations, plus a research grant. I will also be doing research during my app year. I like basic science research but have a few concerns:

    1) I would only have neuroscience research, but if I got a PhD I would want it to be more bioinformatics related. I'm proficient in a few programming languages but don't a math background at all, so how feasible would this be? And if I apply saying that my intention is to do neuroscience, how possible would it be for me to switch?

    2) I really want to be a clinician, and I think I would be more competitive if I applied MD/PhD due to good research experience and average (or slightly below average) clinical experience. I am just not sure that if accepted, I would see the PhD portion to completion especially if I wasn't doing bioinformatics or something related to it.

    3) I'm not good at/dislike benchwork. I suck at labs and always get contaminated product in chem labs or end up messing up tissue sections or whatever. I am good at scientific writing as well as experimental design and reasonable in stats, so I do like that part of research.

    The main reason I am considering the PhD is because I've always been interested in bioinformatics (my school has absolutely nothing related to it, unfortunately) and it's a backup plan in case medicine doesn't work out.

    So should I apply to MD/PhD programs? Or would I be competitive enough for MD even though I don't have that much clinical experience? Thanks in advance for your help!
     
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  3. pithecanthropus

    pithecanthropus

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    1) Feasible. Wouldn't worry about this. But don't apply saying that your intention is to do neuroscience if that's not the case. Be honest about what you want to do and why. You're not married to your undergraduate research; all you have to do is speak intelligently about it.

    2) You can do bioinformatics or even epidemiology as the bulk of your PhD in at least some programs, but if you're lukewarm about wanting the PhD and aren't sure what you'd do with it except shift yourself into a potentially more favorable applicant pool, you shouldn't be applying to MD-PhD programs. You need a plausible explanation for how the PhD is going to fit into your long-term career plans.

    3) Don't assume that you are bad at or even dislike bench work based on undergraduate experiences. If you like the design aspect and thinking through a problem, the hands can be acquired through consistent and, ideally, well-supervised work. But if you don't see work requiring a wet lab as part of reaching your scientific goals, don't go down that road. Again, it's about where you see yourself in 20 years.

    I won't criticize use of MD-PhD programs as a hedge against failure in one or the other because I've often felt that way, but don't say it out loud. It sounds, though, like you're primarily interested in the MD. If that's the case, apply to MD programs.
     
    noolsy and Dr. Retractor like this.
  4. Dr. Retractor

    Dr. Retractor 2+ Year Member

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    Thanks for the informative answer. I should have been more clear in my original post, but I don't want to do the MD/PhD to hedge my bets in terms of jobs, although that's what I ended up saying. I would really like to do bioinformatics research as part of my career, but I have read that there aren't many clinicians who also do basic science work, so I kind of assumed I would be doing one or the other, but I'm not sure which. My use of "back-up" didn't convey what I meant to say. I would be happy doing both and ideally I would be, but that doesn't seem likely. I don't really favor being a clinician over a researcher, I'm just cognizant that I'd probably have to choose one if I did an MD/PhD. Am I wrong about this?
     
  5. pithecanthropus

    pithecanthropus

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    The programs exist to produce physician-scientists, people who at a minimum will incorporate training from both degrees into their careers and who will often continue doing both research and clinical medicine in varying proportions. It's true that there is substantial attrition over time, with people abandoning one or the other, more often research. If you see yourself as 80:20 research:medicine, go for it. 50:50 probably won't happen, and 20:80 gets into questionable territory for whether you should be doing a PhD. Where you actually end up on that spectrum 20 years from now will depend on many impossible to predict factors, but judge according to where you think you want your career to go.

    Bioinformatics is a nice option for a physician-scientist and could be applied readily to essentially any specialty you might want to go into. It's also convenient to have experiments that won't die if you take the weekend off and won't have some of the built-in consumables costs of wet work.
     
  6. pluto101

    pluto101

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    I have a friend who is currently in an MSTP program in the Midwest. She was in a similar situation as yourself. She has done rotations through labs that mostly do bioinformatics based research, and she is seriously considering joining that lab for her PhD.

    I sympathize with much of what you're saying. I agree that if you go down this path, you're going to be doing a lot of research for at least four years, and you should be ok with that. But don't worry about the bioinformatics part - that's definitely feasible.
     
  7. Dr. Retractor

    Dr. Retractor 2+ Year Member

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    I'm a little hesitant to do the PhD at all. I'm still thinking about it but I'm leaning towards applying MD only.
     
  8. Dr. Retractor

    Dr. Retractor 2+ Year Member

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    Thanks for your advice @pithecanthropus
     
  9. cbgb

    cbgb

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    Start looking at Bioinformatics PhD programs and see if they catch your eye. While there are many out there there aren't too many compared to other fields. Keep in mind a PhD is through an established graduate program so you can target any applications towards those places. If the research that is being done in this area doesn't grab you then the time may not be right. Bioinformatics means different things to different people so you have to find the right fit.
     

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