VitaminVater

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Background:

cGPA: 3.8-4.0
sGPA: 4.00
MCAT: 36-39

Research:

1+ years in basic science lab - Will have 1 pub, most likely another that will be 2nd author. Have gone to multiple national,regional, and local conferences, won small grants within university and travel awards. Will be writing senior thesis on current project.

Coursework:
34+ credits every year, have taken graduate level courses related to my current and hopefully future research.

Other ECs:

Officer in school's debate team
Coordinator of a hospital volunteer program
Multiple hospital volunteering across specialties- 100+ hours
Have only shadowed 1 specialty
TA for basic science class
Tutor

Home background:
URM, low socioeconomic background.


Preliminary list of schools:

Baylor
Case Western
Chicago
Cornell
Einstein
Harvard
JHU
Mt. Sinai
NC-Chapell Hill
Pitt/Carnegie Mellon
Stanford
UC Denver
UCSF
Vanderbilt
Washington



I'd appreciate any feedback on my list or credentials. Especially if it's too top heavy, narrow/broad, etc..
*Edited for app cycle.

Thanks!
 
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mTORC

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Great school list. You do need more research experience, however. Also, make sure you can really articulate and demonstrate your passion for the combined degrees. Think about adding more schools in the top 20.
 

Chugoku

late application survivor
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Even though you only have a year of research experience, sounds like you've done a lot. As long as you can talk about it intelligently, it should be sufficient. I agree with mTORC. If you can, add more top 20 schools.

You should also consider how well a program matches with your research interests. I have a strong interest in neuropsychiatric disorders and applied to schools based on the strength of their faculty in the field. I browsed autobiographies, searched names on pubmed and looked at lab websites. Questions I asked myself included: Does their work sound interesting? Do they have a decent/recent publishing record? Does their lab use a particular method/technique?

Not only will this give you a better idea of a program's suitability but it can also save you time in the future. When you're invited for an interview with a school, they'll ask you to provide names of people you'd like to meet...and you'll already know! Pow! Good luck!
 
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VitaminVater

VitaminVater

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Great school list. You do need more research experience, however. Also, make sure you can really articulate and demonstrate your passion for the combined degrees. Think about adding more schools in the top 20.
Really? I thought research would be one of my strong points, I basically live in the lab and have been mistaken for a grad student multiple times lol.
I started the beginning of my sophomore year because I wouldn't really have understood what I was doing without taking Orgo I & II, which I had completed by then. Do most programs expect applicants to start research since their first semester of freshman year?

Would it be advisable to maybe wait a year to add to research experience/get more pubs?
 
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VitaminVater

VitaminVater

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Even though you only have a year of research experience, sounds like you've done a lot. As long as you can talk about it intelligently, it should be sufficient. I agree with mTORC. If you can, add more top 20 schools.

You should also consider how well a program matches with your research interests. I have a strong interest in neuropsychiatric disorders and applied to schools based on the strength of their faculty in the field. I browsed autobiographies, searched names on pubmed and looked at lab websites. Questions I asked myself included: Does their work sound interesting? Do they have a decent/recent publishing record? Does their lab use a particular method/technique?

Not only will this give you a better idea of a program's suitability but it can also save you time in the future. When you're invited for an interview with a school, they'll ask you to provide names of people you'd like to meet...and you'll already know! Pow! Good luck!

Thanks for the advice on how to pick programs, that was definitely the hardest part as far as coming up with schools I could get into but would also be suited for.

Is there a recommendation as far as the max/ratio of top 10/20/30 schools to include in order to have the list be broad enough?
I don't want to overshoot but also don't want to miss out on any chances at the top 10s..
 
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Fencer

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You seem to be competitive, have a great story, and done sufficient EC's. However, your research is just enough to compete. I will estimate that at least 20% (and likely more) of MD/PhD matriculants have done post-bach such as the NIH IRTA program.

You don't need to change your list, but you need to add programs in the 30's or bottom of your list. There is a lot of competition for the schools that you are listing. As Chugoku told you, emphasize the groups of investigators that are present at each of those schools. Do you know? For some areas of investigation, my non-MSTP program would be a top 5 in the country. I know that your resources are limited, but your investment will pay off. Once you start your MD/PhD, as long as you keep exceling at your next test, paper, etc., your life would be taking care of. There is no unemployment for MD/PhD graduates. The US utilizes 18-19% of the entire MD workforce for medical school faculty, and we are only 3% of the annual MD workforce.
 
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mTORC

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Your stats are great, and your socioeconomic and URM status should help considerably. However, you'll be competing with students like me with a lower MCAT but 4-6 years of research experience with multiple first author pubs. As long as you know that, and you can really articulate why you want to go into research, I suspect you'll do very well if you apply next year, which will be 2 years of research experience. You don't need another year unless you think that will help you find out if you're passionate about doing an MD/PhD. EDIT: I read what Fencer just said; if you think you'd want to do research for a year off the NIH Post-bac IRTA is a great option. PM me if you have questions.

At least in my limited capacity to answer the question (an admissions director like Fencer will really be able to answer your questions better), I would say the following is most important for you to consider:

1) Make your story clear, concise, truthful, believable, thoughtful and most of all - compelling, in a well-written primary application.

2) keep working hard in lab, and be able to intelligently and passionately talk about your science

3) Start working on obtaining excellent letters of rec by building great relationships with people. An amazing letter is from your PI will take you far.

4) Don't underestimate your competitiveness. Apply to top schools! Since you're applying to MD/PhD, apply to the MSTP powerhouse schools like Penn and WashU.

To add to Chugoku's advice, THINK about where you're going to apply!-- You're going to be in a place for 7+ years, so make sure you apply to areas you'd like to be in. Do you want to be in Cali? UCSD, UCLA (there's no in-state bias for MSTP) Do you want to be closer to you family? Can you REALLY live in NYC? If not, take those schools out of the mix. Do you LOVE NYC? Why not add NYU, Columbia, etc.? What about curriculum considerations? Yale, Penn do things quite differently and are both great MSTPs. What draws you to Baylor and not UTSW, which has a larger MSTP?

Also, don't forget about top programs that aren't necessarily reflected in the rankings (also, who cares about rankings?). Mayo Clinic has a great MSTP and its hospital is consistently ranked in the top 3 in almost all clinical areas. Also, UW-Madison is such a well-funded university with a top tier graduate program that will blow your socks off. Also, check out UTHSCSA, with a great MD/PhD program!
 
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VitaminVater

VitaminVater

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Your stats are great, and your socioeconomic and URM status should help considerably. However, you'll be competing with students like me with a lower MCAT but 4-6 years of research experience with multiple first author pubs. As long as you know that, and you can really articulate why you want to go into research, I suspect you'll do very well if you apply next year, which will be 2 years of research experience. You don't need another year unless you think that will help you find out if you're passionate about doing an MD/PhD. EDIT: I read what Fencer just said; if you think you'd want to do research for a year off the NIH Post-bac IRTA is a great option. PM me if you have questions.

At least in my limited capacity to answer the question (an admissions director like Fencer will really be able to answer your questions better), I would say the following is most important for you to consider:

1) Make your story clear, concise, truthful, believable, thoughtful and most of all - compelling, in a well-written primary application.

2) keep working hard in lab, and be able to intelligently and passionately talk about your science

3) Start working on obtaining excellent letters of rec by building great relationships with people. An amazing letter is from your PI will take you far.

4) Don't underestimate your competitiveness. Apply to top schools! Since you're applying to MD/PhD, apply to the MSTP powerhouse schools like Penn and WashU.

To add to Chugoku's advice, THINK about where you're going to apply!-- You're going to be in a place for 7+ years, so make sure you apply to areas you'd like to be in. Do you want to be in Cali? UCSD, UCLA (there's no in-state bias for MSTP) Do you want to be closer to you family? Can you REALLY live in NYC? If not, take those schools out of the mix. Do you LOVE NYC? Why not add NYU, Columbia, etc.? What about curriculum considerations? Yale, Penn do things quite differently and are both great MSTPs. What draws you to Baylor and not UTSW, which has a larger MSTP?

Also, don't forget about top programs that aren't necessarily reflected in the rankings (also, who cares about rankings?). Mayo Clinic has a great MSTP and its hospital is consistently ranked in the top 3 in almost all clinical areas. Also, UW-Madison is such a well-funded university with a top tier graduate program that will blow your socks off. Also, check out UTHSCSA, with a great MD/PhD program!

Hmm I see. What I previously thought was either most of the applicants will be 'traditional' and so would have as much research time as me, or would take into account my junior status.
As I mentioned in my previous thread, I will probably be applying to a lot of summer NIH research programs. Would this help or would it be the same as staying in my home institution?

I'm confident I can talk passionately and coherently about my research, I truly can't see myself practicing medicine without devoting time to basic or translational research.
If I already have an idea of the kind of research I want to do for the PhD (and it's related to my current research), is this something I should emphasize in my essays or should I keep it broad/open to other areas?
I know I can get an amazing letter from my PI, but should I also get a letter from the post-doc who supervises me day in and day out?

I think I'll take you and Fencer's advise and research these schools better for my preferences, I just wanted to put this list out to see if I was applying broadly enough or overshooting.
Thanks for all the help!
 
May 30, 2013
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Personally, I think you will be fine with that amount of research. I am a current applicant and senior undergraduate. I started research at the beginning of my sophomore year too and at almost all of my interviews interviewers have commented that I have very good lab experience. That said, I have independence over my own very large project and will have been in the same lab for 3 years by matriculation, but it sounds like you will have that too. My MCAT was in the 40's, but your GPA is better and I am not an URM. I have had interviews at almost all of the Top 20 schools I applied too and have been accepted to my top choice. I think you will basically have your choice of schools. However, I will echo what others have said - figure out what you want to research. It will make a huge difference in making a school list and will benefit you at interviews. You also might want to do something that will make you stand out from the rest of the candidates. Many people at my interviews have or are getting master's degrees, have big name PI's at the NIH, or have substantial international experience. None of those things are required, but it might make them remember you. Good luck! PM me if you have questions about applying straight out of undergrad.
 
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VitaminVater

VitaminVater

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Personally, I think you will be fine with that amount of research. I am a current applicant and senior undergraduate. I started research at the beginning of my sophomore year too and at almost all of my interviews interviewers have commented that I have very good lab experience. That said, I have independence over my own very large project and will have been in the same lab for 3 years by matriculation, but it sounds like you will have that too. My MCAT was in the 40's, but your GPA is better and I am not an URM. I have had interviews at almost all of the Top 20 schools I applied too and have been accepted to my top choice. I think you will basically have your choice of schools. However, I will echo what others have said - figure out what you want to research. It will make a huge difference in making a school list and will benefit you at interviews. You also might want to do something that will make you stand out from the rest of the candidates. Many people at my interviews have or are getting master's degrees, have big name PI's at the NIH, or have substantial international experience. None of those things are required, but it might make them remember you. Good luck! PM me if you have questions about applying straight out of undergrad.
I've been nominated for the Goldwater and from what I've been told have a high chance of getting it. Also might get this national award for my area of research. Would that help in those regards?
 

Chugoku

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Hmm I see. What I previously thought was either most of the applicants will be 'traditional' and so would have as much research time as me, or would take into account my junior status.
As I mentioned in my previous thread, I will probably be applying to a lot of summer NIH research programs. Would this help or would it be the same as staying in my home institution?

I'm confident I can talk passionately and coherently about my research, I truly can't see myself practicing medicine without devoting time to basic or translational research.
If I already have an idea of the kind of research I want to do for the PhD (and it's related to my current research), is this something I should emphasize in my essays or should I keep it broad/open to other areas?
I know I can get an amazing letter from my PI, but should I also get a letter from the post-doc who supervises me day in and day out?

I think I'll take you and Fencer's advise and research these schools better for my preferences, I just wanted to put this list out to see if I was applying broadly enough or overshooting.
Thanks for all the help!
If you have an idea of the kind of research you want to do, definitely mention it in your application. Even better that it relates to your current work. Just be wary of being too specific. You don't want to come across as single-minded but having an articulated area of interest will make your application a lot stronger and it will sound like a more coherent story. Like everyone else stressed, it's about presenting yourself with a narrative...past, present and future, with medicine and research intertwined.

Although you said you don't care about location, is that really true? I know right now you may think "I'll go anywhere, whatever school will take me" but like mTORC said, consider what kind of environment you would be happiest in. Narrow your list based on this criteria. Also consider if a school has a state bias. I think UNC may prefer in-state, though Cali schools definitely don't have a quota.

As Fencer said, look outside of US news top 20 programs because a school that's strong in one area may be weak in another. Another option is to ask your current PI for recommendations, as they will probably know who are the quality researchers in your field at other institutions.

Agreeing with pipettequeen, I think you're fine with your research experience. I would definitely advise against waiting a year to apply. Go for it. Keep in mind I have not actually read your ECs but it seems like you've done a lot. Remember, you're trying to get an MD/PhD, you're not expected to have either degree to apply! You could do a summer NIH program. Working in a new lab will give you a broader perspective on research in general but whether 3 months of work will produce something meaningful...I don't know. Maybe if you're in a chemistry lab you could get a publication or two. Whether it will be more productive than your home institute, I can't say. Like I said, if you can talk about your work passionately and in depth then you've done enough to apply.
 

Chugoku

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Thanks for the advice on how to pick programs, that was definitely the hardest part as far as coming up with schools I could get into but would also be suited for.

Is there a recommendation as far as the max/ratio of top 10/20/30 schools to include in order to have the list be broad enough?
I don't want to overshoot but also don't want to miss out on any chances at the top 10s..
Sorry to reply out of order, I didn't stick to any recommended scheme for lists. I applied to about 21 schools, mostly top 25. It was not a "well-balanced" list by any standard but I applied to schools whose strengths played to my interests. In the end, it worked out pretty well. Maybe someone else has better advice for this.
 
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VitaminVater

VitaminVater

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If you have an idea of the kind of research you want to do, definitely mention it in your application. Even better that it relates to your current work. Just be wary of being too specific. You don't want to come across as single-minded but having an articulated area of interest will make your application a lot stronger and it will sound like a more coherent story. Like everyone else stressed, it's about presenting yourself with a narrative...past, present and future, with medicine and research intertwined.

Although you said you don't care about location, is that really true? I know right now you may think "I'll go anywhere, whatever school will take me" but like mTORC said, consider what kind of environment you would be happiest in. Narrow your list based on this criteria. Also consider if a school has a state bias. I think UNC may prefer in-state, though Cali schools definitely don't have a quota.

As Fencer said, look outside of US news top 20 programs because a school that's strong in one area may be weak in another. Another option is to ask your current PI for recommendations, as they will probably know who are the quality researchers in your field at other institutions.

Agreeing with pipettequeen, I think you're fine with your research experience. I would definitely advise against waiting a year to apply. Go for it. Keep in mind I have not actually read your ECs but it seems like you've done a lot. Remember, you're trying to get an MD/PhD, you're not expected to have either degree to apply! You could do a summer NIH program. Working in a new lab will give you a broader perspective on research in general but whether 3 months of work will produce something meaningful...I don't know. Maybe if you're in a chemistry lab you could get a publication or two. Whether it will be more productive than your home institute, I can't say. Like I said, if you can talk about your work passionately and in depth then you've done enough to apply.

What do you find is the best way to tell apart the research area strength of each individual institution? I have 1 or 2 departments/research areas I'd definitely like to go in, so this would help out A LOT in deciding which schools to apply to.
 
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1 - I wouldn't bother with more shadowing for MSTP unless you just want to. You have enough exposure to be familiar with the field. If possible, try to see a physician scientist in action (can be MD or MD/PhD).

2 - I agree that your research experience is on the low side numbers wise, but it sounds like a strong experience. Even better if you have an idea of where you want to go as far as research field in the future. This isn't required but I've definitely felt like knowing more specifically you're interests has helped me during the application process (being familiar with the field, having great conversations with profs that a more specific than just I love science lolz). Plus, I think you will find a program better catered to your strengths and waste less time during rotations.

The only caveat of your research that I would question if I were an adcom (just an accepts student here) is how you handle failure in the lab. It sounds like you've done very well (often luck in science), and would you still love it if you hit road blocks along the way (which you will during your PhD)? Have you experienced a lot of trial and error, everything keeps failing for a month, and still enjoy it? I'm just imagining if everything worked out great and I got a pub after only one year of undergrad research, research in general would seem a lot more glorious than it is. Don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, just something to think about.

Good luck, and if your motivation is solid, I think you will competitive at the MSTP of your choice.
 
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VitaminVater

VitaminVater

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1 - I wouldn't bother with more shadowing for MSTP unless you just want to. You have enough exposure to be familiar with the field. If possible, try to see a physician scientist in action (can be MD or MD/PhD).

2 - I agree that your research experience is on the low side numbers wise, but it sounds like a strong experience. Even better if you have an idea of where you want to go as far as research field in the future. This isn't required but I've definitely felt like knowing more specifically you're interests has helped me during the application process (being familiar with the field, having great conversations with profs that a more specific than just I love science lolz). Plus, I think you will find a program better catered to your strengths and waste less time during rotations.

The only caveat of your research that I would question if I were an adcom (just an accepts student here) is how you handle failure in the lab. It sounds like you've done very well (often luck in science), and would you still love it if you hit road blocks along the way (which you will during your PhD)? Have you experienced a lot of trial and error, everything keeps failing for a month, and still enjoy it? I'm just imagining if everything worked out great and I got a pub after only one year of undergrad research, research in general would seem a lot more glorious than it is. Don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, just something to think about.

Good luck, and if your motivation is solid, I think you will competitive at the MSTP of your choice.
Failure and the slow rewards of research is something I actually wanted to highlight in my essays since they're my motivation for going back day in and day out, and if you're in a chemistry and lab and nothing's going wrong then you've got plenty reason to worry :p
 
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Chugoku

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What do you find is the best way to tell apart the research area strength of each individual institution? I have 1 or 2 departments/research areas I'd definitely like to go in, so this would help out A LOT in deciding which schools to apply to.
To be honest, I am not sure. My guess is that all the top schools (many of which you have on your list) will have strong PhD programs in most areas of research. As far as ranking schools according to strength, look at their websites (which I'm sure you've done) and ask other scientists. I'm neuro, so I asked other neuro people which institutes have solid programs. Again your PI and faculty at your current school are great resources. Conferences can also highlight a particular institute's strengths. Look at the abstracts of conferences you've attended. See which schools send students or speakers. If you're doing any scientific reading, take note of the institutes that researchers are affiliated with. The names that keep popping up are the people who are "big" in the field and I would say their institute is "strong" for that kind of work.

What areas are you interested in? I'm sure there are SDNers who can share their wisdom on which programs excel in your field.
 
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Shifty B

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I completed an MSTP at one of the programs on your list several years ago.

I think your credentials are more than adequate to get you interviews at a number of these places. While I know that the people on here mean well, the comments above are pretty freaking minor. I wouldn't advise you to do anything differently or more. Carry on.
 
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VitaminVater

VitaminVater

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To be honest, I am not sure. My guess is that all the top schools (many of which you have on your list) will have strong PhD programs in most areas of research. As far as ranking schools according to strength, look at their websites (which I'm sure you've done) and ask other scientists. I'm neuro, so I asked other neuro people which institutes have solid programs. Again your PI and faculty at your current school are great resources. Conferences can also highlight a particular institute's strengths. Look at the abstracts of conferences you've attended. See which schools send students or speakers. If you're doing any scientific reading, take note of the institutes that researchers are affiliated with. The names that keep popping up are the people who are "big" in the field and I would say their institute is "strong" for that kind of work.

What areas are you interested in? I'm sure there are SDNers who can share their wisdom on which programs excel in your field.

Well the main areas I've been looking at are pharmacology and anything with genomics or molecular genetics. Kinda broad, but I'm keeping my options open.
 

Fencer

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Let's see - Pharmacology! I see a lot of programs that you missed in the top 20 of 2013 NIH funding (including 3 from Texas, and oops, not the one you thought was strong from Texas, which is listed as #67 in Pharmacology 2013 NIH funding).

Rank Name Pharmacology
1 UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA $27,698,023
2 VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MED CTR $19,485,939
3 UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO $19,441,059
4 UNIV OF NORTH CAROLINA CHAPEL HILL $16,300,958
5 DUKE UNIVERSITY $13,816,527
6 MOUNT SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE $13,339,777
7 UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS $12,997,595
8 UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH AT PITTSBURGH $12,653,782
9 CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY $12,401,290
10 UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SAN FRANCISCO $12,314,366
11 YALE UNIVERSITY $11,243,369
12 UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA MEDICAL CENTER $11,042,639
13 VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY $10,973,674
14 UT SOUTHWESTERN MEDICAL CENTER $9,572,539
15 UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY $9,412,511
16 UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO DENVER $8,523,787
17 EMORY UNIVERSITY $8,356,795
18 UNIV OF TX HSC, SA $8,270,908
19 UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON $8,125,081
20 UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS MEDICAL BR GALVESTON $7,959,219

Source: 2013 - http://www.brimr.org/NIH_Awards/2013/Pharmacology_2013.xls

You only picked 8 out of the top 20 in your list and missed on many great training programs. You should look at this list and examine opportunities for safety/match/dream MD/PhD programs that mean something to your research interests, not those of your neighbors or those using USN&WR rankings.

For other potential MD/PhD applicants, funding is one of the most critical elements to have a great training program in any MD/PhD program, MSTP or not. Without the funded investigators, you don't have the community of potential supervising professors to train you... On the other hand, there might be a lot of funding, but a relative poor quality of MD/PhD training. You must look at these two elements as way more important than USN&WR rankings. (from a USN&WR top doctor).
 
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VitaminVater

VitaminVater

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Let's see - Pharmacology! I see a lot of programs that you missed in the top 20 of 2013 NIH funding (including 3 from Texas, and oops, not the one you thought was strong from Texas, which is listed as #67 in Pharmacology 2013 NIH funding).

Rank Name Pharmacology
1 UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA $27,698,023
2 VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MED CTR $19,485,939
3 UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO $19,441,059
4 UNIV OF NORTH CAROLINA CHAPEL HILL $16,300,958
5 DUKE UNIVERSITY $13,816,527
6 MOUNT SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE $13,339,777
7 UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS $12,997,595
8 UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH AT PITTSBURGH $12,653,782
9 CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY $12,401,290
10 UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SAN FRANCISCO $12,314,366
11 YALE UNIVERSITY $11,243,369
12 UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA MEDICAL CENTER $11,042,639
13 VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY $10,973,674
14 UT SOUTHWESTERN MEDICAL CENTER $9,572,539
15 UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY $9,412,511
16 UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO DENVER $8,523,787
17 EMORY UNIVERSITY $8,356,795
18 UNIV OF TX HSC, SA $8,270,908
19 UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON $8,125,081
20 UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS MEDICAL BR GALVESTON $7,959,219

Source: 2013 - http://www.brimr.org/NIH_Awards/2013/Pharmacology_2013.xls

You only picked 8 out of the top 20 in your list and missed on many great training programs. You should look at this list and examine opportunities for safety/match/dream MD/PhD programs that mean something to your research interests, not those of your neighbors or those using USN&WR rankings.

For other potential MD/PhD applicants, funding is one of the most critical elements to have a great training program in any MD/PhD program, MSTP or not. Without the funded investigators, you don't have the community of potential supervising professors to train you... On the other hand, there might be a lot of funding, but a relative poor quality of MD/PhD training. You must look at these two elements as way more important than USN&WR rankings. (from a USN&WR top doctor).

Wow! This is an awesome resource! Thank you so much, I'll try to update the list as it progresses to keep y'all updated.

Happy New Year!