What the Recession Means for MD/PhDs

February 13th, 2009
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A recession is a great time to be in school because you’re mostly sheltered from the economic downturn. But basic science labs at most institutions still have significant exposure to the stock market collapse. That’s because the endowments fund a great deal of the research at a University–and only the tip top universities can run a research department at a profit. Usually, the grants cover about 85% of a laboratory’s budget and the university hospital or endowment makes up the difference to complete the budget. Unless a researchers currently has 2 active grants, chances are they are relying on the university to subsidize their research–in excess of private and public grants.

(Aside, a nytimes.com blog by a Stephen Quake of Stanford got me started on this topic; he has an interesting discussion about funding a lab in his recent post)

In the downturn, endowments have suffered. Stanford and Harvard (which have been most prominently covered by the media) lost over 20% of their $15+ billion dollar funds. And university hospitals have seen downturns as well (Oregon Health & Science laid off 500 employees because they used to make a 5% profit on hospital procedures announced they were making a measly 1%). While NIH grants might not cover all the research interests, the basic science activities do provide value to the hospital and university in prestige, recruiting, and other ways that benefit medicine-MD/PhDs realize this.

So, what does this mean for you? It means that PIs who are not fully funded by NIH & private grants will be losing resources. It means that total spending on research will be further contract. It means that MD/PhDs may receive additional pressure to see patients to generate revenue. But in the end, it remains a good time to be in school and to receive training with the hope that he economy will be booming 4 years (MD) + 3 years (PhD) + 4 years (residency) = 11 years in the future.

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Oops! Hosting issues now resolved

February 6th, 2009
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MDPhds.org had a little snafoo that coincided with a busy time for the MD/PhD students who host the site. The hosting issue has been worked out (it was our fault), and we expect to be up 99.9% of the time for the rest of the year. Thanks for those of you who offered support and potential server hosting.

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When it Comes to a Mentor, NIH Funding Counts

January 26th, 2009
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How do you find the right mentor?  Your advisor, your big sib, and several others have likely weighed in.

Obviously funding, graduate student training records, and publication records will be among the most important factors to examine.  Searching publications is quick, but students should not a PI’s NIH funding record.  Because NIH grants come from federal dollars, they are disclosed in a searchable database.

NIH CRISP Database is a simple tool to use when you’re considering labs, departments, or prospective schools.  You can search the length of an active grant, and see which projects in the lab have the strongest funding.

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What are your admissions chances?

January 11th, 2009
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If you’re in this years application pool, chances are that your interview schedule is becoming more and more clear.

An analysis of a subset of the 2007 AMCAS data showed that of the 1,698 MD-PhD applicants, slightly more than half (898, or 53%) received invitations to interview with at least one program (some programs did not participate in data collection).  Those invited to interview had better MCAT scores  33.9 (3.1 sdev) vs. 28.1 (6.0 sdev) and better grades (3.77 vs. 3.59).

So, once you have an interview, you may ask, what are your chances of receiving an offer?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Finding the Right MD/PhD Curriculum

January 9th, 2009
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The MD/PhD program has a unique mission and goal in training physician-scientists.  It’s important to remember that an MSTP student is not simply a medical student who happens to be getting a PhD for extra-credit.  It’s important to consider how the programs you’re considering integrate the MD and the PhD program.  Traditional medical curriculum is not well designed to deliver a streamlined educational curriculum.  The culture of science and medicine are quite different, and the range of philosophies between programs varies quite significantly. At this point in the year, many students are beginning to receive offers from several programs.  Evaluating the specifics of the curriculum should be an important part of your decision making process.  Students need to recognize which programs accelerate the coursework process and which programs contain significant redundancies between the PhD and MD programs.

For example, the Colorado program explains quite eloquently how their mission is different than a regular MD [my emphasis]:

“During Phase I [first calendar year of the program], MSTP students take courses administered by all of the UC Denver basic science graduate training programs, fulfilling the core course requirements of these graduate programs, as well as those of the medical school. For example, in Phase I, students take the core graduate course required by all programs and some program-specific elective courses. The graduate core course is literature-based, hypothesis-driven, and focused on biological mechanisms. The students are required to present research papers in a critical manner, and thus, they begin to read the original scientific literature from the outset. Additionally, rather than testing students for their ability simply to memorize facts, students are tested for their ability to think critically and creatively. For example, students are often asked to interpret a set of experimental data, to propose a hypothesis based on their interpretation, and to design well-controlled experiment(s) that rigorously and directly test their proposed hypothesis.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Announcing the MDPhDs.org Store

January 2nd, 2009
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We’re excited to announce a new addition to our site: a MDPhDs.org bookstore. We’ve partnered with Amazon.com in an attempt to raise some funds to keep the site up and running on the server.

The store opens with 4 categories:

  • Applying to Medical School
  • Science Writing
  • Medical Writing
  • Great Neuroscience reads (because that’s my bias).

So, if you’re looking for some good reading material, please check out the site store and support MDPhDs.org.  Thanks.

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