One of the great benefits of being a senior medical student is finally feeling like you actually have advice to provide when first and second year students who ask for it. During my third year, I had students ask questions along the lines of “What is the best way to prepare for clinical year?” and “What kind of research should I take part in?”
My responses used to be, “Read uptodate” and “Any and all research that comes your way,” respectively, but now, after 3 years of medical school and 6 months of research year under my belt, I think I can provide a few more nuanced answers.
I was wildly unsure about whether or not a scholarly year was the right tack for me. I knew from the get-go that I wanted to pursue a residency in internal medicine, and I was told that students with research experience are the exception more than the rule in that specific applicant pool. Still, I had a vague inkling even in the midst of third year that I wanted to pursue a career in hematology-oncology and that research might be beneficial in the academic medicine setting. That wasn’t enough of a reason to add on an extra year to the arduous journey that is medical school, and to give up the experience of graduating with my original, very lovely, class. What ultimately swayed me was the realization that I could build a strong foundation in research over the course of a year that would last a lifetime, much stronger than one built on a smattering of research experiences in the middle of core and elective rotations. That might work for some students, especially those with prior research experience, but since I was a veritable greenhorn in this arena, I thought it best to dedicate my entire focus to learning a new, rather useful skill set. When I was granted a fellowship to support my work for the year, I was truly sold.
I was tempted at the onset of my research year to outline my expectations and goals on this forum, but I wanted to observe as much as possible before figuring out what goals are actually attainable over the course of a year. It turns out to be successful in research you have to spend a lot of your time early on just learning the language. After that, you can think hard what problems haven’t been tackled yet by the leaders in the field and plot your own experiment to answer those specific questions. So, circling back to our original topic, I would no longer say work on whatever research prospects come your way, but rather, spend a little bit of time on your own reading about all the work in the field and then choose a project that you feel provides the greatest opportunity for a unique contribution. It doesn’t really matter if your mentor is considered the research equivalent of the Queen of Sheba if she doesn’t have an original project for you to work on. If you should find yourself in that position, though, don’t fret. Oftentimes if you dig a little deeper and dare to think creatively, you will come up with an angle that is entirely your own. It will require a lot of patience and deliberate thoughtfulness. That is possibly my favorite phrase I have coined this year — deliberate thoughtfulness is the realization that you could respond to a query or comment in an instant, but instead choose to hold off until you have considered all possibilities. That slowed-down reaction may be second nature to some, but it is not for me. As a right-brained writer, I act more on instinct, but third year and research year have provided me with a greater appreciation of taking the time to double-check the facts. Naturally, I am immediately thinking about how to incorporate deliberate thoughtfulness into my analysis of medical student empathy levels, and assessing whether or not cultivating such a philosophy would improve resilience, but I’m going to take a page out of my own book and let the thought percolate for a while. Who knows what interesting study designs might flourish in that time?
As always, I’m happy to answer individual questions on the topic via email. Research year, when planned properly, can be a truly enriching, validating experience. It can also provide a great deal of time to explore other niche activities, like slam poetry😉
For reference, see the post below!
Til next time,