Research in medical school – what are my options? FAQ

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1. General questions

Many of us have not had any opportunity to get involved in research at all this year. For those of us wanting to get some exposure or skills (even if not an actual project), do you have any tips? Many of the opportunities out there require prior experience or for us to be much older. How can we take some initial first steps?
As a pre-clinical student, some initial first steps you could take include contacting a lecturer or tutor you like and asking if they have any projects you could be a part of. Some summer and winter vacation scholarships are also open to pre-clinical students. Don’t worry too much about not having prior experience. Most supervisors will be happy to guide you and teach you what you need to know – just preface this when you contact them!

Anytime you’re interested in starting! The EBM units in pre-clinical years are definitely a great intro to critically evaluating evidence. However, if you’re interested in learning more, MRSS have a number of resources/events to help support your learning. Feel free to follow us on Facebook to be kept updated on our upcoming events or go to our website (http://mrss.mumus.org/) and take a look at our resources section! Our resource section has links/info to help upskill yourself such as: • Short courses • Understanding stats • Writing up research, submitting papers • Coding and more…

Similar to the previous question, workload varies significantly between projects/research types and across the timeframe of the research. It can be significantly less compared to the medicine degree at times but can also be basically the same especially with research types where you have a lot of coursework on top of the actual research activities itself. For BMedSc(Hons) for example, for most of the year, people will be conducting their research activities e.g. data collection, lab work, data analysis etc. and there isn’t much coursework. Most of the year was probably less involved than the medicine degree but at times when presentations/ coursework is due, it can be pretty comparable. The good thing I found about the honour’s year was I felt that we had more free time on weekends/out of business hours!

In general, it depends on your project, how you decide to schedule your time, and outlining your expectations with your supervisors early on. • BMedSc(Hons) – really variable; as it is self-managed, you can come into the hospital and leave whenever you want with a typical day starting around 9am. Things were less relaxed when nearing coursework deadlines. • Gap year (finding your own research) – same as honours year – you decide your time • MPH – outside of scheduled tutorials and lectures, it depends on how much you want to do (i.e. variable) • PhD – depends on your project; labs are more intensive/everyday; clinical projects are also relatively intensive; database projects depend on how much time you want to put into analysis. For Roshan, most days were spent analysing data, in meetings with supervisors, coordinating projects, and writing papers – essentially, you choose your workload

There’s no doubt that research helps to bolter up a CV for specialty applications, and for some specialty colleges, publications/abstracts to scientific meetings/ presentations are becoming more necessary to be competitive. This will of course be very individual to the specialty you’re interested in. Would recommend having a look at the MUMUS careers portal or the specialty college websites for more specific information – http://careers.mumus.org/.

It depends on the college and their selection process – they will list the specific criteria on their CV requirements. For example, for general surgery any medical research will suffice. Also, there are certain ‘expiry dates’ for some colleges, i.e. they won’t accept research published 10 years ago. In general though, even if your research in another field may not be able to go on your application it will still give you the skills and experience that make you a more attractive candidate.

• BMedSc(Hons) – you can do your honours year anywhere in the world as your location is determined by where your supervisor is; the only limitation is that your supervisor has to be associated with Monash – the best option is probably to find a local supervisor here then ask if they have any connections overseas/if there’s any chance to do part of the project overseas. Many honours students do their year overseas. There’s also the option to undertake your honours year in bioethics at Oxford University via a faculty-backed ‘exchange’ program. • PhD – it’s not possible to do a MD-PhD overseas given that you can’t convert your BMedSc(Hons) into the necessary qualifications for an overseas PhD. However, you can definitely still travel abroad for leisure during your PhD. • MPH – generally not feasible; not entirely sure yet whether the program with the University of Warwick is in-person. Generally, this will be difficult anytime soon given the CoVid situation. Everyone doing their honours year overseas this year has had to return to Australia. Faculty/ Monash university policy isn’t accepting for anyone to do their honours year overseas next year at the moment however this is certainly subject to change.

Finding your own research opportunities (e.g. through lecturers) might be the best option for international students financially given that there’s often no associated costs, with some even potentially offering remuneration for dedicated research assistants. Even though this may seem like a less “formal” route, it can still yield research output equivalent to those doing honours years, summer scholarships, etc.

2. Finding your own research

• Preclinical – talk to lecturers and ask them if they have any small projects you can help out with, especially those that seem really engaged/passionate with their lecture content. Even if they aren’t able to take you on, they may be able to refer you to someone who can. • Clinical – talk to consultants and senior registrars on the team and see if they know anyone that might need help with a particular project. Note that this will be more difficult in some specialties given that many registrars will be trying to complete their projects to gain fellowship. Contacting heads of units is also a time savvy way to find a supervisor because they will often be able to direct you straight to the most appropriate person. You can also ask students who’ve done research for recommendations regarding research supervisors – it’s best to go with supervisors who have had students before/understand the process

3. Summer research scholarships

Can preclin students apply for scholarships that are advertised for older year levels? Is there a chance we will be chosen?

Selection criteria are usually set. However, you could directly contact the supervisor of the project and express interest in it or ask whether there are any other projects available for pre-clinical students.

Persistence is the key! Summer scholarships can be very competitive so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get one – there are many many more opportunities to be involved with research! Try to show your enthusiasm for the particular project/ topic in your application – make it specific. You can also try emailing the supervisor directly (rather than just through the scholarships portal) – obviously don’t be too intrusive but a polite email may demonstrate your keenness for the project. Potentially, the supervisor may also still get you involved in another project even if you don’t get the summer scholarship one.

Please visit https://www.monash.edu/study/fees-scholarships/scholarships/summer-winter for the most updated information about summer scholarships. Applications open Sept 7 at which time you will be able to review the projects available. There may be modified projects available due to pandemic restrictions.

It depends on what project you go into and what stage that project is in. You could have a conversation with the project supervisor beforehand to understand what stage the project is up to, e.g. experiments, analysis, writeup. It is definitely difficult to experience all the aspects of a research project in such a short time frame.

4. Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours)

Yes! Doing the BMedSc(hons) after year 4D gives you the option to continue onto the accelerated MD/PhD pathway where you can extend your BMedSc(Hons) project over an extra 2-3 years to complete a PhD. Visit https://www.monash.edu/medicine/som/bmedsc-hons/mbbs-phd- pathway#:~:text=An approved pathway exists for,degree for 3-4 year s for more info.

It depends on your personal preferences – there are always opportunities for those who enjoy ongoing patient interaction. For example, at the school of clinical sciences there are optional weekly bedside tutorials to still allow you to practice clinical skills in a guided manner. There are also seminars that serve as lecture material to refresh your knowledge on various topics. Depending on your supervisor, you can also ask to tag along with them on visits to clinics. In fact, as part of your project, you may see more than what a normal medical student sees, e.g. a kidney transplant.

A good place to start is to think about specialties/topics that you enjoy e.g. surgery, neurology, paediatrics etc. Chatting to past BMedSc(Hons) students can also be really helpful. MRSS runs the ‘Should I Do a BMedSc(Hons)’ Event each year to help connect you with past students. Faculty also run a more formal BMedSc info night with presentations from each of the sites that offer projects. You can also check out the supervisor connect portal to search for projects (https://supervisorconnect.med.monash.edu/research- projects?combine=

The degree length is 1 year (well technically, it follows roughly the university dates – so March to end of October) however project lengths can be variable. Some people will do shorter projects which they may finish within the first 6 months, after which time they may choose to pick up another project or just relax for the rest of the time. There are course requirements e.g. literature review, presentations, minor thesis that have set due dates scattered across the year.

5. Masters of Public Health

The pathway towards such careers isn’t too clear yet, but an MPH will definitely give you a big leg up in the application process to such opportunities.

The main advantages include being able to get scholarships more easily (the faculty helps set you up) and being able to complete a postgraduate degree in a shorter amount of time. In addition, the earlier you attain these qualifications the more you’ll be able to make use of them, e.g. in applications. It may also be difficult to find a full three years of dedicated time when you’re a practicing doctor to complete another degree.

If you opt into the MD-MPH pathway, it will only take an extra 1 year. This is compared to doing the MPH separately post-graduate which will take 1.5 years. 2020 is the first year that Monash University has implemented this pathway!

Why do a Master of Public Health? Does it necessarily lead to a field in epidemiology? What is a Master of Public Health like? What kind of research do you do there?

The MPH is a broad post-grad that gives you skills in a range of public health areas, particularly – research, health promotion, and policy. Useful for people interested in careers in global/public health, those interested in research, and really anyone looking to become all-rounded doctors! A higher degree is mandatory for certain college applications e.g. the Australian College of Emergency Medicine, public health physicians. It provides points for other colleges but are not necessary.

The MPH is a coursework based degree – there are no large research projects. However, there are electives that you can choose that can get you involved in research projects and have the possibility for publication – watch the recording to hear about Andy’s experience!

In earlier weeks of the semester, timetable is roughly 1-2h per unit per week. In later weeks, 6h per unit per week with 12-15h spent on large assignments.

6. MD-PhD pathway

PhD candidates will almost always have a scholarship. Faculty will support your scholarship.

Unfortunately, a PhD/MPHs can be quite expensive, especially when considering that such scholarships for international students are quite rare; hence, decisions to pursue such degrees would have to vary on a case-by-case basis. International students should contact the director of clinical research A/Prof Megan Wallace if interested in applying.

However, international students (interns) have suggested for those looking to apply for programs where publications are the key factor to talk to potential supervisors early on. A lot of doctors and consultants understand the struggles of international students and will try to help out.