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Struggling to find research opportunities

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Hey all, I hope everyone is doing well. I am currently an MS1 at a 3 year medical program, and I have been searching for research opportunities. I wasn't sure if it would be more appropriate to post this thread in the research section, but I figured since this is specifically regarding the fact that I'm a medical student I would post in Medical Student General Discussions. 

I have done a fair amount of wetlab research during my undergrad which I wasn't the biggest fan of. I definitely prefer research that is more relevant to clinical practice, so I have been searching for clinical research opportunities. Additionally, I don't feel like I have enough time to conduct wetlab research given that I am in a 3 year program with no summers off - experimental timelines overlapping with my classes would realistically make this unfeasible, so this is another reason why I am looking for clinical research. However, I have been having difficulty finding clinical research opportunities. 

From what I understand, its usually best to contact residents as these are the individuals who are often conducting clinical research (someone please correct me if I am wrong) as opposed to cold emailing labs/research groups like during undergrad. I have been asking to shadow them so that I can build up some rapport before asking about research, but a lot of them say that they are unable to take medical students and that I must shadow a staff member. A lot of staff have been too busy to respond to my emails or don't seem to be involved with the sort of clinical research I am hoping to partake in. 

I feel like I need to act quickly to get research under my belt - I am already a ways into first year and clerkship is rapidly approaching. Does anyone have any recommendations as to navigating this situation, especially in a 3 year program? Thanks everyone!

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Look on the department websites for people you are interested in working with and email them. There is no special recipe now that you're in med school, and shadowing residents and staff hoping to get research with them is not an effective strategy since only a small number of them actually do research on a meaningful scale where they would have opportunities for clerks. Your best bet is to focus on PIs with active research projects and to just talk to them directly about being involved. Depending on what area/specialty you want to exposure to, this can be more or less challenging.

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Sounds like timeline is pretty tight. Could try do a case report or two, or mini review. Try cold email preceptors or maybe do shadowing and mention you wish to do those. Very difficult to get going on big projects and have results in a short period. Case report can be a quick solution, sometimes takes less than a week to write up if you can gather the relevant information quickly.

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For some specialties (also location dependant), it is very hard to find research opportunities.

Here are some tips regarding research as someone gunning for a competitive program:

1) You can go to staff and residents with proposed projects in mind and I have found that they are usually more receptive to supervising you than having to think of an entire project anew.

2) Identify the upper year gunners in your year and find the staff physicians that they work with. Shoot them an email.

3) Do not underestimate working over Zoom with out of province or out of country staff. I have several projects with staff several provinces away.

4) Pubs are not easy- maximize your output by submitting to conferences before submitting the manuscript. There is a chance your paper takes a good 7 months. Start multiple projects at once if you can, some big and some small.

5) Learn how to conduct a systematic review and systematic review with meta analysis. These can be done quite fast and are generally well received.

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  • 2 weeks later...

My advice is also network with interest groups, sometimes you'll find people who are looking for research students that way. Another way is by emailing preceptors. As a MD student, people will definitely be interested in working with you. Don't be disheartened if the answer is initially no or no response. A lot of people just don't have anywhere they can fit a student in and othertimes, reaching out is good because they will keep you in mind if other projects come up.

I agree with many others that case reports, systematic reviews and literature reviews are the best way to get started. The easiest way to get started is to join in on a group doing systematic reviews and screen studies for them. You often get co-authorship for this and you get to learn more about studies and how to critically appraise studies, its two for one.

If you are at McMaster, you should look into PHRI, the physicians who work there are highly productive researchers who often run labs with huge teams of students. The students there really get stuck in and a lot go on to become academic physicians.

I agree with working outside of your institution, if you find a group you are interested in, reach out to them. With COVID, most researchers were forced to learn to work remote and now everyone is comfortable doing so, such that now I'd say half of my research projects involve Zoom meetings with researchers sometimes halfway across the world.


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