COLLEGE OF MEDICINE
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Medical Student Research
Do I need to do basic science research?
Absolutely not. While there are many fascinating studies on campus that involve bench basic science research, there are many more clinical trials and even translational research opportunities available. Doing some type of research helps students gain appreciation for the scientific method, decide whether they like research, and make themselves more competitive as a residency applicant. Find an area of interest and try it!
What if I have never been involved in research before?
No problem. Be up front with your mentor so you can pick a project that will allow you to ease in OR tag along to a study already going. This will allow you to understand how things work before starting your own project.
What if I don't know much about the research area that I will be studying?
Read. Ask your mentor which resources might be of high yield and offer you the ease of understanding. Eventually you will be asked about your research (e.g. on residency interviews, etc).
How much statistics do I need to know before I can get started?
A decent working knowledge is helpful but not necessary. Many large labs on campus have experts in statistics that can assist you with study data. Some of the formal programs on campus like the Summer Health Professionals Program have required coursework that includes some basic statistics.
Do I conduct my own study?
It depends. If you are doing a several month experience, a summer experience, or longitudinal work you may indeed conduct your own study with faculty or resident supervision. Sometimes students start by “tagging along” to an ongoing resident or faculty project.
Will I be able to present or publish the findings?
Absolutely. Quality research can and should be written up. It may be in an on campus forum (research day or campus paper) all the way up to national peer reviewed publications or national meetings. Here at MUSC, there is a Research Day each Fall where students can present their own work. Don’t forget to put the research and publications on your Curriculum Vitae.
How much time do students normally spend on research activities?
Full time Summer opportunities usually last 10-12 weeks. There is some flexibility during some of the days but anything less and it would be difficult to really do “research.” Other students devote 4-6 hours per week over a much longer period of time (1-2 years). For research electives in the 4th year, students can do up to 2 full time months for credit (with approval).
Is it better to be involved in several different projects with different investigators, or should I focus my attention on one project?
Generally at the student level, it is better to focus on one or two meaningful projects at a time in order to do quality work and still maintain good grades. After all, all the research in the world will not offset failing courses or failing out of school.
Will I work alone on the research or will I be a part of a larger research team?
In most cases you will either work with a team of individuals or at least a faculty or resident mentor.
How often do students and their research mentors meet?
It depends but generally students meet with their mentors on a weekly basis in some capacity.
Is research necessary to get into residency?
Generally not. It can be helpful with many of the competitive residency programs. The most recent AAMC Charting Outcomes Data can tell you how many publications or presentations the average applicant has for a given specialty.
What are the specialties that place more emphasis on research?
Integrated surgery programs (E.g. CT, Plastics, Vascular), Dermatology, ENT, Ophthalmology, Urology, Radiology, General Surgery, Radiation Oncology and Radiology tend to place the most emphasis on research. Even for fields like psychiatry or internal medicine, the most competitive fields may also like to see past research experience.
What are some projects for beginners?
Consider a retrospective chart review or writing up a clinical case or case series. Meta-analyses can also be reasonable projects.
Where can I find a mentor?
Try the search engines on the MSRP (e.g. Palmetto Profiles or link to the College of Graduate Studies). Other options include looking up individual departments or specific grants at institutions of interest. In addition, each MUSC College of Medicine Department has a research contact.
Can I get funded?
Indeed especially during the summer between year one and two. The two large internal opportunities include the DART Program and The Summer Health Professionals Research Program. Last year nearly 70 first year students received funding in these programs alone. In addition, some labs on campus have money set aside for this type of thing. There are national and other opportunities outside MUSC. Stipends range from $1500-5000 usually for 10-13 weeks of work. It is not common to get a stipend for longitudinal work during years 2-4."
If am lost, who can I turn to?
The Associate Dean of Student Career Planning and Advising is always available to meet.