Written by: Eric Goldwaser, COSGP National Research Representative
Research is something that looms in the back of every pre-medical students mind when applying to medical school – “Do I need to do it? Is a poster the same as a publication? What are the interviewers going to ask me about it on my interview?” Unfortunately, the conversation does not change much when it comes to medical students applying for residencies. To most, research is an arduously enduring, intensely unsatisfying, and overly squandering chore that generally does not extend much further than an 8-week summer research stint in a lab. It is honestly circumstantial whether or not the experience culminates in a poster presentation at a conference, or a retrospective chart analysis that makes it to publication years later. The true feat that comes from doing research is being able to grasp what the project is all about in a broader scheme, which requires a depth of understanding beyond simply the experiments that were performed.
It is widely accepted that most medical students and physicians will not continue their research into residency and then clinical practice. And that is totally fine. Not everyone is cut out for months of meticulous pipetting, tedious protocol reviews that undoubtedly require ‘experimental adaptations’, and laborious data analysis that most often amounts to having to re-do the experiment. But, as a medical student, the value is not in the publication that comes to fruition, nor the results that your PI gets excited about, but rather the experience that you can talk about to others (namely interviewers).
It is obvious that motives are often confounded by the current status of ‘importance of resumes’ – and again, that is totally fine. You do not have to be vested in doing research out of love for the lab – we all have different reasons to do it. Where the conversation turns sour though, is where the interviewer asks you to talk about your research and you are left reciting the memorized abstract and conclusion statements in bulleted form from the poster you presented three years ago. It becomes painfully obvious the student who not only didn’t care to do the research, but also those who didn’t care to know what it is they were doing – i.e. the ‘why’. The onus falls upon the medical student to KNOW their research, infinitely times more important than merely having done it.
I always ask students I interview about the research they put on the resume (if it is within the last 5 years, it is fair game, FYI). If for nothing else, then to solely establish the legitimacy of the rest of the application. After all, if a student adds research to their resume and is unable to speak about it, it begs the question about what else has been embellished or unsubstantiated based on those same premises. At the end of the day, if you put your name on something, you should know what it is you are taking credit for enough to have an in-depth conversation about it.
I urge you the next time you are at a conference to peruse the poster presenters. Ask the presenter about their research and see the response – do they turn around and recite their poster to you verbatim? Do they engage you and present information outside of their poster? I think you will find it a very helpful exercise in how you want to come across at your own interview when talking about research. The bottom line: do your due diligence to know what it is your name is receiving credit for, because it is dreadfully apparent when you don’t.