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Throughout four years of medical school, students are
fortunately provided with one summer vacation. It is a
potential time for relaxation and enjoyment of what life has to
offer. Spending time with friends and families, traveling to
different parts of the world, or doing anything remotely distant
from studying would be time well spent. However, as residency
matching becomes more competitive and the number of applicants
grows, summer vacation is no longer a time for "doing nothing." One
of the more popular options of spending a productive summer is
doing research. The number of medical students participating in
some form of research is growing, and research is becoming an
important component of medical education. In addition, it can be a
great opportunity to learn something outside of school while also
strengthening your credentials.
Below is a list of suggestions that I'd like to share with all
future and current medical students:
Start Early—The number one recommendation I can
give first-year medical students interested in participating in
research is to start early. I cannot emphasize this enough. What do
I mean by starting early? Begin thinking about what field of
specialty you want to do research in prior to matriculation, and
then start reaching out to potential mentors once school starts.
This will show the mentor that you are organized, prepared,
serious, and really interested in working with them. Many students
wait until the last minute and rush to get involved in research
projects unrelated to their specialty of interest or topic.
Research, Research, Research—It is absolutely
essential that you know your options. Just like looking at a
restaurant menu and deciding what you want to eat, you need to do
the same when selecting a mentor and research project. At first
glance, stem cell research may sound very interesting, but take the
time to look at other options (unless stem cell research is really
your passion). You will be surprised by what your school or
external institutions have to offer. After narrowing down the list
of potential mentors, study their previous works. That way, when
you meet your mentor, you will be prepared to answer any questions
they may have as well as be able to ask them questions about their
project. This will make a great first impression. In addition,
choose carefully where you want to do research. Do you want to stay
in your home medical school? Or go to a different part of the
country? External programs have earlier deadlines and will require
filling out applications and requesting recommendation letters.
Know Your Field of Specialty—It will be
advantageous to engage in a research project related to your
specialty of interest. Getting involved through research can
benefit you in many ways. You will get the opportunity to develop a
close relationship with your mentor. During preclinical years,
students are often limited in terms of interacting with physicians
in a variety of specialties. We may get a chance to hear a lecture
on congenital birth defects by a pediatric surgeon, but close
interaction with a surgeon will not occur until
rotations-especially those that are in competitive fields, such as
cardiology or plastic surgery. As a result of your research, you
will be exposed to your specialty of interest and get to meet other
people in the same field. What could be greater than that?
Dress to Impress—If you were able to
successfully set up a meeting with your potential mentor, dress
professionally. Wear your white coat, and act appropriately. Just
like at medical school interviews, you want to portray a positive
image when meeting your future mentor. Furthermore, take the time
to purchase a small notebook that you can carry. When I first met
my mentor, he immediately began talking about his projects. If I
did not write notes about what we discussed at our first meeting, I
would have been overwhelmed by all the information that he
presented to me.
I like to end by saying "the early bird gets the worm." Knowing
early whether you want to do research can improve your odds of
finding a superb mentor and fascinating project. I encourage
everyone to give research a chance. Though you will be sacrificing
your last summer vacation, having some research under your belt can
only help you. Medicine is a dynamic field. Therefore, it is
crucial that you develop awareness of medical advancements and
research. This information is solely based on my personal
experiences and is shared only to help all medical students. I hope
that these tips will help you and others find the best possible
research mentor and project.
Medical College of Georgia
at Georgia Regents University
Class of firstname.lastname@example.org
January 2015 Issue of IMpact
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