Maximizing a Research Year: 6 Things You Should Know as a Medical Student

14 Dec 2016

By Shree Agrawal

While most of my classmates have been completing clinical clerkships as third year medical students, I have instead spent the past six months performing clinical research. One of the most commonly asked questions by students exploring a research year is how to establish an efficient and productive research agenda to avoid wasting a year in medical school. These are some of the key pieces of advice I have compiled from my personal experiences to help make a research year effective

6 Tips You Should Know as a Medical Student Before Starting a Research Year:

  1. Find mentors early! I cannot overemphasize the importance of these connections. Mentors can either offer you research opportunities or help you find potential Principal Investigators (PIs) who may have research projects that align with your research focus. Further, a conversation with a mentor, with whom you have an established relationship, will help you articulate the direction you want to pursue within a research year to meet your ultimate career goals.
  2. Know the research coordinator(s), program coordinator(s), parking services, credentialing offices, etc. in advance. A common mistake is waste time while waiting for approval and credentialing that could be done in advance of the official research term. Starting this process as early as possible will ensure you can dive into projects at the very beginning of your research year.
  3. Create an action plan.

-Address your main goals for your research year
-What projects do you want to complete during this time?
-Establish a proposed timeline you anticipate for each of your experiments, data collection, and data analyses
-What are potential setbacks or hurdles?

It is helpful to create, at minimum, a general plan for your year with important dates and deadlines to share with your PI. This facilitates a mutual understanding of goals, demonstrates respect of your mentor’s time, and ensures your mentors will pencil in time to help review your work when necessary (especially around abstract deadlines!).

  1. Stay busy! It is misleading to think research years as opposed to clinical clerkships have more downtime. Though major long-term projects may provide a flexible schedule, have multiple ongoing short-term projects to switch focus when you have completed major tasks or have free time.
  2. Create an accountability system. This may vary for your experience, but create a weekly system to either meet with your PI, resident, fellow, and/or research coordinator to go over weekly progress and future steps. Frequent check-ins foster efficiency and allow you to communicate both successes and obstacles with your research efforts. Many research groups have weekly or bi-weekly meetings – make sure you attend and participate!
    -Meet with your Dean on a regular basis, if possible. They are especially helpful in case you experience a roadblock in establishing a research year or are not accomplishing as much as you had planned.
  3. Find rewards. When a project has a long timeline, it is easy to fall into a mindset of never feeling accomplished after putting in many hours towards a smaller goal. Research unfortunately is not accomplished overnight. Find small incentives to keep you motivated through the year.

Please tweet @WomenSurgeons or @ShreeAgrawal21 with #AWSresearchtips to share your tips for an efficient and productive research year while in medical school!

shreeShree is a third year medical student at Case Western Reserve University, where she also completed her bachelors of science degree in biology.  Prior to medical school, she performed prostate cancer research at the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals of Cleveland. Shree is passionate about clinical research surrounding patient decision-making and medical education. In her free time, she enjoys blogging on the AWS blog, practicing yoga, and boxing.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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