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MD PhD Guide: On The Road to Medical Science

Getting Prepared

After making your decision on which program to attend, there will no doubt be an indescribable glowing feeling that your future is beginning to take shape. Definitely take the time to bask in the natural high derived from the successes in life. However, once the effect has worn off a little and you have descended from cloud-nine, you can take several steps to prepare yourself for the long road that lies ahead.

There are basically two schools of thought on what you should do with the summer before you start the program. Some M.D./Ph.D. programs encourage (and some even require) you to do a laboratory rotation. The idea is that giving you an early start in the lab will expedite your decision on a thesis advisor, while also providing some interaction with other students who are on campus over the summer. Other programs discourage you from starting a rotation this early and instead recommend that you pursue other interests, as it will likely be your last chance before digging in for the long-haul. Many students use the time for traveling. For example, backpacking in Europe tends to be popular. Whatever you choose to do with your time the summer before, make sure that you do take the time to catch up on rest, relaxation, and recreation. The next seven or eight years will not be easy and will require an immense amount of dedication (and sacrifice of sleep). Order affordable used books online and continue to study hard.

If you wish to begin a summer rotation, you will need to find a research advisor. This could be someone with whom you interviewed already, or another faculty member in your area of interest. It is a good idea to get in contact early (i.e. April or May) because labs tend to fill up quickly, especially if the particular faculty member is in high demand. E-mail or a phone call usually works fine, but if you’re uncertain as to a specific faculty member, then you might try asking your M.D./Ph.D. program administrator if he/she could set up some meetings for you. Researchers tend to be very busy and have many commitments, but are usually more than willing to go the extra mile to talk with you. M.D./Ph.D. students have the reputation of being very bright, hardworking individuals and therefore are very desirable to have in the lab.

Retreats often take place near the end of the summer or beginning of fall and provide an excellent way for students to meet each other and faculty in their field of interest. Graduate programs usually have retreats that M.D./Ph.D. students can attend and the M.D./Ph.D. programs often sponsor retreats of their own. These activities will let you know who is working on what at your school and may give you ideas to incorporate into your future research plans.

Finally, it is probably a good idea to plan out a schedule for the next several years to ensure timely progression toward graduation (for an example, see Appendix B). Make sure that if you plan to take some graduate courses during your first two medical years, try to work out any potential time conflicts well in advance. Remember, you will be your strongest advocate in any M.D./Ph.D. program.

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