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Value of being a "research superstar" for CaRMS?


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Based on what I've read on this forum, research productivity is probably only important for surgery-related specialties, and some other academic specialties like rad onc, and even then it's secondary to good fit/reference letters/electives. But I'm still wondering, if someone were to have crazy high producitivity, like say 15 first-author peer-reviewed publications during med school, would that not at the very least make them stand out enough to score an interview? (given that your ref letters and clerkship evals were about as good as the avg applicant)

Personally, I'm not one of these people (only have 1 pub) nor am I going for a surgery-related specialty, but given that electives/reference letters only happen during clerkship, what other ways are there really other than research, to make yourself a better application while you're still in pre-clerkship? Especially given the current COVID situation that limits you from doing anything that involves leaving your apartment.

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18 hours ago, dooogs said:

Technically doing lots of research can get you better reference letters since you spend more time with attending and residents and they can learn more about who you are :) At least thats what I think

Yeah for sure. But for CaRMS specifically, aren't reference letters usually clinical? Based on what I've heard, submitting a letter from a purely-research supervisor is not generally done? Of course, if you've done clinical rotations/electives AND research with a preceptor then that could be a very strong letter indeed, but my understanding is that it's uncommon for people to have these sorts of letters.

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On 11/22/2020 at 5:13 PM, zxcccxz said:

Yeah for sure. But for CaRMS specifically, aren't reference letters usually clinical? Based on what I've heard, submitting a letter from a purely-research supervisor is not generally done? Of course, if you've done clinical rotations/electives AND research with a preceptor then that could be a very strong letter indeed, but my understanding is that it's uncommon for people to have these sorts of letters.

I guess you can always just do an elective with them to have that perspective

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Usually when you do enough research with someone for them to know that you are interested in their specialty, they will go out of their way to get you into clinical scenarios so they can write you a letter. If they don't go out of their way, then usually they are receptive to the suggestion if you bring it up. Don't underestimate the important of having good people in your corner go to bat for you when the time comes. (sorry for the mixed boxing/baseball metaphor).

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3 hours ago, robclem21 said:

Usually when you do enough research with someone for them to know that you are interested in their specialty, they will go out of their way to get you into clinical scenarios so they can write you a letter. If they don't go out of their way, then usually they are receptive to the suggestion if you bring it up. Don't underestimate the important of having good people in your corner go to bat for you when the time comes. (sorry for the mixed boxing/baseball metaphor).

I think the tricky part is that some people (like me...) start doing research early in med school and may not end up doing that speciality but I think that the person can still give you a good reference even if it's not their speciality.... it just seems crazy that you MUST ONLY get the specific speciality you will pursue... 

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One other perspective here I have heard from some people about - 

superstar researchers don't always make good residents. Precisely because they care about research so much. Any time you spend doing research you are not say studying or looking after patients - point is there is a price to doing anything that takes away from something else. Residency is a job - and many programs are looking for people that are good at the job. Research is often a tangent to the job. Any resident/staff knows of people that are extremely academic/research focused that may be losing out on practical things. In residency selection in the age of pass/fail I think research as well is just used sometimes as a proxy (if the person can do a ton of research and still do well in the program then he is a smart/hard worker which is probably something we are looking for. That doesn't actually mean they care about research directly though. Programs vary but I think it is always important to ask why programs are looking at whatever they are looking at). 

Even highly academic residency programs when you look at it often have very little requirements in the way of actual research. Honestly if you look at things closely it is surprising how little research people doing actual academic medicine have to do in many cases (unlike the US there is little real advantage to someone to advance up the academic ranks - lecturer, assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor all earn exactly the same and have the exact same amount of research time directly ha. There ways around that but the base levels don't). 

Point is that after a point pumping out more and more research is at best diminishing returns, and as I mentioned I guess recently there are no absolutes there. Some places will love research, some will be unconcerned by at it, and some may even be wary of it. There is no prefect path where you XYZ and you will be universally liked.   

 

Edited by rmorelan
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On 11/27/2020 at 7:13 PM, Snowmen said:

If you have 15 first-author publications during medical school, that actually sounds really shady. Hard to be that productive and have anything of adequate quality.

15 is crazy, but lets assume they were all published in top level journals, would that change things?

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On 11/27/2020 at 5:37 PM, rmorelan said:

One other perspective here I have heard from some people about - 

superstar researchers don't always make good residents. Precisely because they care about research so much. Any time you spend doing research you are not say studying or looking after patients - point is there is a price to doing anything that takes away from something else. Residency is a job - and many programs are looking for people that are good at the job. Research is often a tangent to the job. Any resident/staff knows of people that are extremely academic/research focused that may be losing out on practical things. In residency selection in the age of pass/fail I think research as well is just used sometimes as a proxy (if the person can do a ton of research and still do well in the program then he is a smart/hard worker which is probably something we are looking for. That doesn't actually mean they care about research directly though. Programs vary but I think it is always important to ask why programs are looking at whatever they are looking at). 

That definitely makes sense, but is that more true at the residency stage than as a med student going into CaRMS? I can see why programs wouldn't want their residents focusing too much on research. But as you mentioned, in a pass/fail system, shouldn't it always be a plus that you are able to pass all of your courses and perform in clinical rotations just like your peers, but show good research productivity on top of that?

Even if you're applying to a speciality that doesn't give a hoot about research, it should still be able to tell them that you're a hard worker right? It seems crazy to me that a program could actually be wary of someone having good research producitivity on the premise that it will lead to them being a clincially poorer resident.

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2 hours ago, zxcccxz said:

That definitely makes sense, but is that more true at the residency stage than as a med student going into CaRMS? I can see why programs wouldn't want their residents focusing too much on research. But as you mentioned, in a pass/fail system, shouldn't it always be a plus that you are able to pass all of your courses and perform in clinical rotations just like your peers, but show good research productivity on top of that?

Even if you're applying to a speciality that doesn't give a hoot about research, it should still be able to tell them that you're a hard worker right? It seems crazy to me that a program could actually be wary of someone having good research producitivity on the premise that it will lead to them being a clincially poorer resident.

The problem is passing all your courses is a relatively low bar - it isn't like people are failing out of medical school on a regular basis - doing a pile of research doesn't really tell you if there is a corresponding drop in medical school academic progress. You have no clear idea of what is going on - everything is just pass, pass, pass..... You could be scrapping by, and focusing all your efforts on research hoping it will push you up on CARM rankings etc to success. Medical students are very good "min/max" type of people as a rule - they adapt to the rules of the game so when those rules aren't in alignment withe true goal (and solid medical knowledge base is probably closer to the goal than research output) you can argue there is an issue. This is actually one of the issues with the pass/fail system I think - it used to be getting high grades was exactly how you showed you were a harder working AND clinically sound (hopefully). Now there isn't really a way to evaluate clinical skill to the same degree, and we have all these proxies for hard work. 

Some programs have been burned in the past by overly academic researchers not doing as well in clinical work. The point is more following you example in exactly "superstar" researchers. You have to question what the price was for that person to generate that kind of research output, and how will the impact them later on. 

The other issue is many programs try to use objective criteria in the admissions - assigning a percentage of your final score to various things and having grading criteria. Helps make sure things are fair and consistent when many people are involved and not everyone reviews every candidate - which is common. So what if the max score for research is set at 10-20% as an example (which is probably realistic)? Great you hit the max but are missing the remaining categories because you super specialized. Schools that do it that way - and there are many - will not allow you to truly take advantage of extreme performance in any area and working past a point is simply useless.  

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1 hour ago, rmorelan said:

The problem is passing all your courses is a relatively low bar - it isn't like people are failing out of medical school on a regular basis - doing a pile of research doesn't really tell you if there is a corresponding drop in medical school academic progress. You have no clear idea of what is going on - everything is just pass, pass, pass..... You could be scrapping by, and focusing all your efforts on research hoping it will push you up on CARM rankings etc to success. Medical students are very good "min/max" type of people as a rule - they adapt to the rules of the game so when those rules aren't in alignment withe true goal (and solid medical knowledge base is probably closer to the goal than research output) you can argue there is an issue. This is actually one of the issues with the pass/fail system I think - it used to be getting high grades was exactly how you showed you were a harder working AND clinically sound (hopefully). Now there isn't really a way to evaluate clinical skill to the same degree, and we have all these proxies for hard work. 

Some programs have been burned in the past by overly academic researchers not doing as well in clinical work. The point is more following you example in exactly "superstar" researchers. You have to question what the price was for that person to generate that kind of research output, and how will the impact them later on. 

The other issue is many programs try to use objective criteria in the admissions - assigning a percentage of your final score to various things and having grading criteria. Helps make sure things are fair and consistent when many people are involved and not everyone reviews every candidate - which is common. So what if the max score for research is set at 10-20% as an example (which is probably realistic)? Great you hit the max but are missing the remaining categories because you super specialized. Schools that do it that way - and there are many - will not allow you to truly take advantage of extreme performance in any area and working past a point is simply useless.  

Yeah, the whole pass/fail system is very confusing to me. For all of our lives thus far, it's been drilled into us that we should strive for excellence (in terms GPA, volunteering, extracurriculars, research, everything really...) and suddenly we make it to med school and all the academic counsellors tell you is "it's sufficient to just pass your courses."

At my program, we do blocks of core courses that are about 2-3 months in length each (i.e., GI-Heme, MSK-Derm, CV-Resp etc.), and honestly as long as you've been attending your lectures, you can pass just by reviewing a couple days in advance of the final exam. This to me seems like a pretty low bar. And once you're around the class average in terms of grades (tends to be ~15% above the MPL), you know that you're about as knowledgeable as your classmates and there is no incentive to work any harder. Ultimately, you could score 99% in a course and have nothing to show for it, no scholarship, no commendation, just the same Pass on your transcript as someone who got a 70%. 

This is why I've started ramping up on research work. Because memorizing obscure diseases in order to get those few extra percentage points does nothing for you. In your career, unless you do FM or GIM, you won't use 95% of the info you learned in med school. Sure, if the exam is on the speciality I'm interested in pursuing as a career, I'll put in the extra effort to get a high score (whether out of interest or for my own future use). But as a pre-clerk (limited by COVID restrictions), research seems to be the only thing I can do right now that will help me down the line in the CaRMS match. All the other important elements (electives, reference letters, good fit, interview success etc.) can only be gotten in clerkship or during CaRMS week. 

You bring up a good point that research may only be weighed at 10-20% in the overall application score. But the grades I get in my courses beyond a pass are weighed at 0%. So I'm hoping that trying to generate research producitivity will still prove ultimately more useful than grinding for that extra 5-10% on exams.

Alright sorry, rant over :mellow:

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5 hours ago, zxcccxz said:

Yeah, the whole pass/fail system is very confusing to me. For all of our lives thus far, it's been drilled into us that we should strive for excellence (in terms GPA, volunteering, extracurriculars, research, everything really...) and suddenly we make it to med school and all the academic counsellors tell you is "it's sufficient to just pass your courses."

At my program, we do blocks of core courses that are about 2-3 months in length each (i.e., GI-Heme, MSK-Derm, CV-Resp etc.), and honestly as long as you've been attending your lectures, you can pass just by reviewing a couple days in advance of the final exam. This to me seems like a pretty low bar. And once you're around the class average in terms of grades (tends to be ~15% above the MPL), you know that you're about as knowledgeable as your classmates and there is no incentive to work any harder. Ultimately, you could score 99% in a course and have nothing to show for it, no scholarship, no commendation, just the same Pass on your transcript as someone who got a 70%. 

This is why I've started ramping up on research work. Because memorizing obscure diseases in order to get those few extra percentage points does nothing for you. In your career, unless you do FM or GIM, you won't use 95% of the info you learned in med school. Sure, if the exam is on the speciality I'm interested in pursuing as a career, I'll put in the extra effort to get a high score (whether out of interest or for my own future use). But as a pre-clerk (limited by COVID restrictions), research seems to be the only thing I can do right now that will help me down the line in the CaRMS match. All the other important elements (electives, reference letters, good fit, interview success etc.) can only be gotten in clerkship or during CaRMS week. 

You bring up a good point that research may only be weighed at 10-20% in the overall application score. But the grades I get in my courses beyond a pass are weighed at 0%. So I'm hoping that trying to generate research producitivity will still prove ultimately more useful than grinding for that extra 5-10% on exams.

Alright sorry, rant over :mellow:

I think that's a good plan. I am pretty impressed that you feel like you have a lot of time after studying for a 70% tho. I got consistently low 80% in my med school exams so far but did study quite a bit....

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