View Full Version : Research, Work & Volunteering
08-07-2001, 03:19 PM
One's research initiative/experience(s) is a commendable undertaking, but is it also that one is more "impressive" in the eyes of med-schools if they are published, as opposed to another who isn't, or has served as an assistant? Also, on the same wavelength, can job-experience in the health-care field be considered "comparable" to research activity, given the nature of the job is applicable (e.g. policy analyst for health Canada)?
08-07-2001, 05:12 PM
I think it matters on how you can 'sell' the importance of what you did. To most schools, issues like these will only come into play during your interview (some schools will exmaine your sketch, but there is hardly enough room to differentiate much on the sketch).
For instance, I had no research experience and only voluteentered in a hospital and I was admitted to the UofT, a very research geared school. I also know of other applicants in similar situations that got in. During my interview, I simply told them that I could not afford to spend a summer researching given the amount of money one would receive. The student acutally agreed with me saying that tuition costs were getting so high that you basically needed a high paying job in undergrad to afford med school.
I am sure that it is easier to sell the importance of pubs, etc. but the point remains that if you can point out during the interview that what you have done is sufficent then I am sure that it will not hold you back.
08-07-2001, 10:15 PM
If it gave you good skills that you think will aid you as either a med student or a practising clinician, then it likely will "look good" from an application standpoint.
I'd always wondered why I needed to do research in order to get into med school. After a summer of pipetting microliters worth of stuff into little PCR preps, it got me to thinking that if med school and being a doctor was like this, there was no way in heck I would be applying. When was the last time you've heard of a clinical doctor doing research on the side?
I've sort of turned this idea around my head in the last year or so, and I've realised that perhaps why UBC liked the fact that I had some research exposure wasn't the research itself (that's why there's a thriving PhD program here) but rather the skills like working in a team environment, learning to read journals, using the internet for research, etc that I gained from doing research were valuable tools to have as a med student.
Like a similar reply that I wrote out here on a different topic, I think research helps you get your foot in the door, and gives you something else to talk about on your interview, but having it, and being published aren't going to magically get you in. I never published the work that I did, basically because I found diddlely-squat by the time I finished, and I still was successful in my med school application. I think that's fairly common among my classmates; many people did research, a number of them published, but the rest of us still got in.
Your previous work sounds like it might give you quite a bit of insight into the health care system. If you can sell it a little, I think that background could be very useful to your application. It's certainly an area that doctors could stand to learn more in, but don't due to time restraints of a four year curriculum.
UBC, Med 3
08-08-2001, 08:30 AM
08-08-2001, 08:31 AM
I would just like to give another view about research.
I have to agree that it isn't necessary at all to get into med school because research itself should not be seen as a means to and end. Your experience in itself is valuable enough to compare to research experience. If research doesn't suit you, you don't really need it at all (don't force yourself to do something that you wouldn't naturally be doing).
However, for those who are into research (who like it, who can publish things, etc), I think that it should be seen an accomplishment as well. It isn't necessary, but it's something that is well looked upon if that's your strength. If the opportunity presents, I think that anyone who is curious should take the time to explore this area of medicine as well (especially clinical research which is quite different from basic science research that many do in undergrad; you may find this a lot more interesting). It does teach you skills like Ian mentioned, and in addition, the experience you acquire will also give you a better understanding of the research world in general.
As for the last time I saw a clinician doing research on the side: EVERYDAY. I work with a few of them. Some even do research in their "off time" as residents. A lot of my class mates are working with clinicians conducting clinical research with patients. Maybe you haven't seen or noticed, but many of the faculty that teaches medicine also conducts clinical research on the side. I just want to counter the view that devalues the impact of research on clinical practice and medicine in general.
It is done, and very often on the clinician's own time (one of the difficulties is finding time to set aside for research to be done). It is important also since it impacts practice patterns, techniques, protocols, and gives an evidence based approach to patient care and management. For those of you who like to be on the leading edge of medical knowledge, research may be a desirable place to explore as well.
08-08-2001, 10:27 AM
Clearly, an adcom will look much more highly on published research as opposed to experience as an RA. After all, adcoms are looking for outstanding people, and publishing papers is how researchers are judged in academia and medicine. However, in most schools this is only one small part of the application, and as mentioned ealier you must sell your experiences in your essay and interview and show how that helped prepare you for meds. The only exception to this is Ottawa and UT as a grad applicant, where a huge portion of the app. comes from research productivity as determined by publications, scientific presentations, etc. In this case someone can have tons of research experience but without pubs will be out of luck.
With respect to research, and remarks by Ian, I agree that learning to pipet will be of very limited usefullness in the future as a doc. However, there is so much more to clinical research, as Alkane200 points out. Clinical research is being performed all the time at academic medical centers (not only by faculty docs, but by residents, grad students, and med students), and it can come in a wide variety of forms ranging from large clinical trials to observational studies on risk factors for disease to studies looking at quality-of-life or cost-effectiveness of treatment options. These studies are directly applicable to publishing in medical journals and eventually changing evidence-based medical practice (pretty important if you ask me). Also, with guidance from someone with experience in clin. epidemiology, these studies can be quite easy to perform compared to basic science research (This is also the reason why a large number of residents and MDs who are interested in academics are going back to school to do an MSc in clin. epidemiology). Another thing, often basic and clinical research can be combined in a way where the research would be impossible to carry out by either the MD or basic science researcher on their own (i.e. they need both expertise)... in this case the 'clinical research' could simply be identifying patients with a disease, and taking blood samples, but the combined research could be very medically useful. Anyway, that is just my speel on why I think research is quite important as a med applicant, and through out a medical education and career.
With respect to health policy experience, I personally think that is a HUGE advantage and a great experience. Again, this would come in during the essay and interview. If you 'sell yourself', you can talk about so many current events and important issues that everyone understands... doc shortage, nurse shortage, doc distributions, doc payment methods, communicable diseases, etc. and talk about your personal experience.
08-08-2001, 08:53 PM
I knew I'd get a response from what I said. :)
I think we all agree that your background in health policy will stand you in good stead when it comes time for your interview, especially if within your autobiographical materials and your interview you can delineate your role in studying those heath policies and their trends, and how it has helped your insight into the medical profession. (How's that for a run-on sentence?)
As far as research goes, I was heading more in the direction that all doctors should be making use of evidence-based medicine, and tailoring their practices towards the new research results that are being generated, and not necessarily the old protocols that they themselves learned in med school. However, I still don't think the vast majority of them conduct research themselves (although it's quite mind-boggling to think of what medical science could accomplish if more clinicians did research). I still believe that once you leave the academic bubble of the hospital and university, and even more once you leave the large metropolitan centers, that most physicians aren't significantly involved in research.
Yes, they are likely to have their patients participate in long-term clinical trials, but I think that's a far cry from actually being the mastermind of the project, and being the ones to write grants, present at conferences, publish papers, manage your lab and staff and all the other stuff that one must do to become a successful researcher.
Either way, I guess the bottom line is that a research background can be very beneficial to you and your patients in your medical career. If it's an area that you think you would enjoy exploring, then definitely dive in and see what you think of it. It's certainly a way to influence the lives of many more people on a huge scale versus seeing one patient after another on an individual basis like most clinical physicians.
UBC, Med 3
I appreciate this conversation.
I am an aspiring premed student, currently at home parenting two kids under two. I am planning on applying to med school in 4 years, and in the meantime am trying to put together a mean resume. I don't have any research experience other than for my university coursework, and I've been wondering if I need to get some. I have a good GPA (3.9), a fair bit of volunteer experience (including 2 years of full-time volunteering with a church agency which covered my basic costs of living), 3 years experience in health care and other life experience (i.e. I'm 32). Perhaps I don't need to do research just to better my chances of acceptance at med school, from what some of the above posts have said.
However, if I do choose to seek some research experience anyway, how do I start? I am planning on taking some science courses over the next few years, to meet some prerequisites and help lay a base of knowledge for the dreaded MCAT. The thing is, I'm in Toronto and am likely going to do distance ed. with U. of Waterloo, because it's easier timewise to do the work, as an at-home parent. How do you suggest I get hooked up with a research opportunity?
Thanks for your comments and advice.
08-16-2001, 12:40 AM
Is distance-ed the same as taking courses by correspondance? If so, you might be stuck, as I'm not aware of many types of research at the student level that can be done from home.
Most basic science research done by undergrads is "benchwork", where at the lab, you'll prepare reagents, mix up formulas, and set up experiments. Clearly this type of grunt labour research must be done at the university, or wherever the lab is located.
Clinical science research, which is what most med students do, usually involves working at the hospital in conjunction with the clinicians there. One type of research that often happens there are chart reviews, where patients who have received a certain treatment are followed up over a period of time to determine their outcomes, and the relative success of that treatment versus a different treatment. It's something relatively simple that med students can do in their spare time because it doesn't take a lot of space or staff resources, making it a very flexible area in which to do research.
Unfortunately, I don't know if this type of research is readily accessible by non-med students. Doing work that involves reviewing old charts steps over lots of privacy and confidentiality issues, so I don't know if the clinical research avenue is available to you either.
On the other hand, if you are physically in the classroom, and being taught by the professor, your job is much easier. What you then need to determine is the scientific area that the professor is working in, and whether you are interested in that type of research. If so, you simply approach them and ask. Volunteering in their lab for a while can possibly open up doors for a paid position later.
UBC, Med 3
Thanks for your reply. What I could probably do is go to a U of T science department and volunteer there, and see if they'd take an interested non-student. Or I could take some courses at U of T a few years down the road and get to know profs in the classroom first.
08-21-2001, 06:50 PM
Great thread, and a great response Akane. I'm also very interested in research, but geared more towards infectious diseases. I don't plan on practicing medicine at all, and like Ian said a good mix of researchers and physicians ensures a lot of exciting times ahead in terms of health care.
08-22-2001, 09:35 AM
I can't think of any lab that wouldn't want a volunteer. You might have to start by ordering supplies and sending glass to the washer but eventually they'll let you do stuff. You'll also have the opportunity to sit in on lab meetings and get the gist of what everyone in the lab is doing plus the research planning process. These are things that can't be learned in a classroom.
Magic, with infectious disease, it's actually good to get a bit of patient exposure. The newest viruses and resistant bacteria will probably be found in a the hospital, not on the labbench. A good route for you might be MD/PhD. You'll get the research background with the PhD and the MD will let you get your foot in the door of most health institutions. My infectious disease course leader is the head of ID for the Kingston General Hospital. He does a lot of labwork plus he is consulted for any strange rash or cough that the hospital sees. He always has exciting stories.
Granted, you can do research without a PhD, but you might get more respect with it.
08-23-2001, 06:06 PM
Thanks Strider, the combined MD/PhD was definately something that I was considering, as long as I can get past the huge time committment! From speaking with professors of mine, they have told me that the PhD component isn't all that essential; that the knowledge can be gained on your own. I'll have to look at this a little more on my own I guess.
One question I do have though is regarding residency for researchers. Is the requirement just the same as for regular physicians? Do researchers even have to do a residency?
08-24-2001, 07:24 PM
I wish I knew more about the residencies. I think one of my MD/PhD classmates mentioned something about a "research-intensive residency", but I don't know what that is, or even if it's a real term, or just some UBC jargon.
If you want to practise as a clinician, you will need to do a residency in order to be licensed to practise in that field.
On the other hand, if you just want to do pure research that doesn't involve direct patient care like a clinician, then I don't think you would need to do a residency.
UBC, Med 3
I will be going into university next year. How does one go about getting a research job when I find a field that interests me? SHould I be talking to my own professors or the counsellors about it?
I wonder about the statement that publications is the important part of doing research - I believe someone said that being an RA isn't very impressive on its own.
Don't adcomms know what undergrads know - whether or not you publish (as an undergrad) depends largely on the lab that you happen to work in? I mean, your prof will publish an article based on HIS work primarily, and you will get your name on it because you happened to get lucky and work with that prof. If, otoh, you did a stellar job working with a prof whose work doesn't happen to get published, then you won't get published.
??? but publications really matter so much for undergrads ???
03-27-2002, 06:33 PM
I have just completed undergrad and am currently working as a "Lab Tech" but really i have been given a Research Tech position. To get there, all I did was talk to people, not particularly professors (they have a lot of ppl appraoch them so there is a lot of competition), but go to the research facilities connected to your university. I think research gives you a strong background into medicine, especially if it is medically related. It gives you a good understanding of why treatments take so long to study. More importantly, in my work i have used a lot of surgical tools and have performed surgeries on animals as part of my research (this is definitely something i can brag about at an interview). Furthermore, my group works closely with clinicians and so i have had the opportunity to talk to them. We are also organizing "rounds" where the researchers get to visit patients and talk to them about what they would like us to do and what they feel is important to look at!! Maybe i am just lucky, but my research experience has definitely benefitted me as a pre-med student. I think if you find the right group who are very dedicated to research, your research experience as a pre-med student can be invaluable. I have been sent to San Diego to make presentations at the Neuroscience and Neurotrauma conferences. One word of advice, look at the number of publications the supervisor has made recently. Getting published as a student has nothing to do with luck, just the ability to recognize a dedicated researcher who writes lots of papers and who has the funding to do a lot of research. By the way, there are tonnes of clinicians who are involved in research. Most of the researchers in my facility are in fact clinicians. I agree though, this occurs mostly in cities where the population is large enough to find a large numbers of patients to study and the funding is available to perform such work on the side.
Oh, i think there was an issue about pay in research. Its not much, but you can go on contract for a year full-time or part-time and you dont have to be a student (just have an undergrad degree).
03-27-2002, 08:05 PM
UofT, at least, has residencies and fellowships which you may be interested in:
1. Infectious Diseases is a fellowship, which has to follow internal med or pediatric residency. It is a combination of clinical and basic work; but mostly clinical.
2. Medical Microbiology is a specialty training programme under Dept.of Lab. Med. and Pathobio. Which means you don't have to finish a residency before, but it has (I think) 2 spots/yr max. It is research intensive, and aimed at training a clinical lab supervisor/researcher.
3. Pathology and some of its subspecialties also include intense I.D./micro and research training.
A warning though... Virus hunting and taming multidrug resistant bacteria can get very abstract and nitty-gritty; i.e. Measuring codon-use in the pathogenicity island of S. typhimurium (even that is a bit more clinical sounding than most projects in basic micro labs). So really ask yourself how far from the clinic do you want to be before chosing the residency.
"Getting published as a student has nothing to do with luck, just the ability to recognize a dedicated researcher who writes lots of papers and who has the funding to do a lot of research."
That's exactly what I meant. Maybe luck is the wrong word - but getting published as an undergrad is primarily about which supervisor you work for, not about how clever, hardworking, or creative you are as a researcher, imho.
If undergrad publications say anything about you at all, it either says that you're lucky and happened to pick a great supervisor, or you're good at the applications game and made a point of choosing a great supervisor. Neither of which (I hope) would be taken by admissions committees as good reasons for admitting a student into med school.
Actually...I would have to disagree with you. Getting published doesn't not necessarily depend on your supervisor. I think it depends on your own intiative and how much work you want to put in. I personally worked in a lab after first year with 4 or 5 other students. We all had projects, but I was the only one to pursue publication. Remember there are many other types of publications (eg. review articles, case presentations, etc.) besides those based on formal studies that you can work on independently under the watchful eye of your supervisor. In order to publish there are no criteria in terms of degree of education, you just send it in and see what the editorial staff has to say. Joe Blow can publish if he withstands the criticism of reviewers and maintains that his piece of work should stand the test of time.
03-28-2002, 05:20 AM
I think you might have it slightly wrong. Joe Blow cannot publish. It is not easy getting published and more important than the actual number of publications is the location where they are published. Papers based on primary studies must be tight scientifically, statistically and experimentally. Review articles are usually solicited by the journal editors and therefore writing an undergrad literature review will not get published. Most importantly, one must consider the location of publication. Each journal is ranked by the Institute of Scientific Information and the range of impact factors is enormous. In many cases 1 paper in NATURE (impact factor >20), would be much more advantageous than 4 papers in JOURNAL OF APPLIED PHYSIOLOGY (impact factor <2). So the process is not trivial.
The main determinants of getting published as an undergraduate are hard work, good supervision, good project and a little luck. They are all equally important in my opinion.
03-28-2002, 11:00 AM
It depends on the lab you're in.
At my school, I happened to take on a part time job one year, working for a prof. I wasn't overly concerned with getting published, I just wanted to learn more about research, and make some money to pay for school. The prof hasn't published since 1993, and probably won't be publishing in the next few years. The research was far from cutting edge, there was almost no money in the lab, very primitive equipment (even the microscopes were old). If your lab has no supplies, and no money to buy new ones, no amount of puttering around can really produce publishable data.
04-01-2002, 07:37 PM
You mentioned the whole idea of journals having different "impact factors"- is there some website we can go to see these rankings? The reason I ask is that I recently had research from my undergraduate thesis published and when I mentioned which journal to a prospective supervisor at another school, she was VERY impressed. (Personally, I didn't think it was that big of a deal, but apparently it is) Do these rankings exist for chemical journals as well? If so, please post a link, b/c I'd be very interested to see them!
Thanks in advance,
04-01-2002, 07:50 PM
Go to the library and ask for the latest "JCR Journal Citation Reports." They have pretty much everything listed in those things. When I paged through one the first time I remember thinking ... "They actually have journals devoted to that?!?!" I'm sure they list chemical journals.
04-02-2002, 08:00 AM
Just do a search on google for "journal impact factor". It should give you a list. And there probably is one for chemical journals as well, if they aren't included in the bio lists.
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