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FailureToThrive

Disappointing summer research experience (med student)

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Doing research in my specialty of interest with highly accomplished people in the field, but I'm only doing scut work and I will not be building connections with these people (as I'll be working in a different office). I'm feeling this large empty hole like I'm wasting my time and not really getting anywhere. 

How can I make the most out of this summer? I was really hoping to find a mentor and to contribute significantly to a project in order to learn how to do research and work towards publishing.

 

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Even if your main role is scut work, that doesn't eliminate other opportunities with this group, but you'll likely have to show additional initiative. Approach the group that you're working for and tell them what your goals are - namely, that you'd like to learn more about the field and that you'd like to learn more about all parts of research, not just the part that you're currently assigned. Depending on their receptiveness, offering to help with analysis and/or manuscript writing could be worthwhile as well.

At the early stages, most research opportunities unfortunately involve a lot of scut work. That's a big part of what research is these days. Most preceptors should be willing to trade that scut work for opportunities to learn though, especially for those that show interest. There are those that don't, who just take advantage of students for free labour, and all you can do in that situation is learn that lesson, get out of working for those people ASAP and pick future opportunities more carefully.

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EDIT: I didn't realize this was the med student discussion thread lol i'm not a med student so feel free to disregard this advice. I'm pretty new here so I don't know if deleting posts is possible. I was gearing this towards undergrads. 

I agree with ralk. Try to move up in the same environment through other opportunities. Maybe you can speak with your supervisor and see if there is a scholarship or grant you can apply for to try to get funding and increase your involvement in the research part. If that doesn't work, seriously consider moving labs and going into one that is willing to mentor you and understands your future goals. I cannot stress enough the importance of surrounding yourself with good people who truly care about your progress and provide you with opportunities to grow. It's hard to get a judgement of a good lab online so maybe ask friends and colleagues which labs/professors have a good reputation. You can also tell how much the supervisor cares about his/her students by just their communication skills with you through email, etc. 

 

Edited by anonymouspanda

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16 hours ago, anonymouspanda said:

If that doesn't work, seriously consider moving labs and going into one that is willing to mentor you and understands your future goals. I cannot stress enough the importance of surrounding yourself with good people who truly care about your progress and provide you with opportunities to grow. It's hard to get a judgement of a good lab online so maybe ask friends and colleagues which labs/professors have a good reputation. You can also tell how much the supervisor cares about his/her students by just their communication skills with you through email, etc. 

This is so incredibly true. 2-3 week response delays, 1 word replies when I send an e-mail with an open-ended question, no punctuation, etc.

18 hours ago, ralk said:

At the early stages, most research opportunities unfortunately involve a lot of scut work. That's a big part of what research is these days. Most preceptors should be willing to trade that scut work for opportunities to learn though, especially for those that show interest. There are those that don't, who just take advantage of students for free labour, and all you can do in that situation is learn that lesson, get out of working for those people ASAP and pick future opportunities more carefully.

That's really great advice, however the specialty I'm interested is so tiny and not many of them do research, so my "supervisor" is literally the only person that I can work with... They also happen to be an accomplished researcher on the specific topic that interests me and I really admired their work, so I thought that they would be an amazing mentor for my career.

It's clear that they really don't care about my progress or my future goals and that they are only using me as free labor. It's also impossible to even get more than 5 min to talk them since they are so busy with patients, how can I approach them for more learning opportunities without being a nuisance to their schedule/time?

 

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11 minutes ago, M2/4 said:

This is so incredibly true. 2-3 week response delays, 1 word replies when I send an e-mail with an open-ended question, no punctuation, etc.

That's really great advice, however the specialty I'm interested is so tiny and not many of them do research, so my "supervisor" is literally the only person that I can work with... They also happen to be an accomplished researcher on the specific topic that interests me and I really admired their work, so I thought that they would be an amazing mentor for my career.

It's clear that they really don't care about my progress or my future goals and that they are only using me as free labor. It's also impossible to even get more than 5 min to talk them since they are so busy with patients, how can I approach them for more learning opportunities without being a nuisance to their schedule/time?

 

Yeah, that's a tough spot. Polite persistence is what I would recommend. Be direct in asking what you're looking for, whether that's a chance to get further into the research project or clinical opportunities. Often these preceptors won't say "no" to any requests, but will try to string you along with vague promises or by saying they'd like to but can't for whatever reason. They want you to keep working for them. Just keep asking. They can't take you along with them in clinic? That's fine, do they have a colleague who would be willing? They'd love to go over your research questions but never sit down to do it? Ask when, provide times. None of those times work? Give a bunch more. Get them to set timelines and firm commitments. When they go past their timelines to get back to you, send them another message reminding them of your earlier discussion. Do it politely, do it respectfully, and don't do it excessively (for example, if they ask for a week to get back to you, give them at least that week), but do it persistently.

Don't avoid being a nuisance, just be a reasonable nuisance. My first real research supervisor was an incredibly busy person who was upfront about telling me to annoy them. Best research advice I ever got. It is a bit of a balancing act, as it's possible to go to far, but doing nothing gets you ignored. Keep holding up your half of the deal (do the scut work and do it well) while gently pushing them do hold up their implicit end of it. If in doubt, start slow and ramp up as necessary.

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