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Pros/cons For A Science Internship


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For those of you who decided to do an internship after 3rd year, why did you do it and can you talk a little bit about your experience (good or bad, why?)


People who decided to not do an internship, what were your reasons against it?


What sort of effect does it have on an application to medical school?





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  • 3 weeks later...

I did an internship after my third year, and I can whole heartedly say it was the most important thing I did during my undergrad. Feel free to ask me any specific questions you have, but I will summarize how/why/where/when and some of the pros and cons I found during and after the internship.


An internship was not a requirement for my program (med sci), but I chose to do it because at that point I honestly didn't know what I wanted to do after I graduated. I was considering medical school, research, industry... but I had no clue.


I filled out a few applications and received an offer to work as a co-op student for 16 months in quality for research and department at a pretty huge pharmaceutical company. I really didn't know much about the pharmaceutical industry, but I decided to go for it (experience, money, delaying graduation - seemed like a win-win-win). However, when I started my internship, I knew pretty much right off the bat it was not something I wanted to do forever.  The job was very engineering focused, very technical, and interacting with engineers is somewhat different than interacting with normal people (lol). I spent a lot of my time there reviewing/generating documentation and staring at a computer screen. I know a lot of people who get internships find themselves doing something they never expected - but you have to learn to make the most of it.


Ultimately, it gave me everything I wanted going in. A lot of (entirely new) experience and I learned A LOT about the industry. I was very lucky with my internship because they gave me a lot of responsibility and independence (which was terrifying at first). I worked on project teams among some of the countries leadings scientists on exciting new research and got exposed to cutting edge technology. I made connections with scientists, engineers, lawyers, and people in HR, marketing and many small biotech companies. I learned how to hold my own in meetings and gained a lot of confidence in my ability to communicate, work in groups, and resolve conflict. I learned how to tactfully navigate office politics and bureaucracy.  I learned how to be resourceful, and how to build rapport with my coworkers/clients. I also got to learn a lot about things that I somewhat neglected in my three years of undergrad due to science module requirements, like business, communications, project management, etc.  Obviously, these things I learned are pretty universal and played a huge role in getting me where I am today - dental school! I know, not medical school. But I think a lot of this should apply anyways. 


Aside what is mentioned above, here are my pros and cons. 



- (Obviously) the money. My internship was in my home city (I was lucky, it doesn't always turn out this well), so I moved back in with my parents and saved almost everything I earned. I was paid hourly over twice as much as what I had ever been paid at any of my previous jobs. So I actually earned quite a lot. This allowed me to graduate debt free and begin professional school with savings and investments (RIP savings thanks to dental school tuition though) 

- Time. This is a pro in some sense and a con in others. My internship gave me another year and a half before I graduated to observe/shadow doctors, talk to professors, and ultimately figure out what I really wanted to do long term. This time can also be used to volunteer, do some ECs, and generally make your application more competitive. Also gives you time to better yourself in independent ways, like taking better care of your health and stepping back from all of the pressure school can place on you, being able to re-evaluate your values etc. There are also no essays to write or exams to study for, so way more time to spend with friends/family/SOs. 

- Reference letter. Over a year of working full time in an 'authentic' professional work environment, and in my case, very closely with my supervisor who was more than happy to write me a glowing reference letter. 

- Back up plan? Often, an internship is a foot in the door to these companies (just incase plan A fails). Also, who knows - you may find you love it and it becomes your plan A!

- INTERVIEW. My internship gave me A LOT to talk about in my dental school interviews. Real experience, and actually unique amongst most applicants that may not have any real 'professional' work experience. My interviewers were all very engaged with my answers about the internship because of this I think. Or possibly because of my ability to communicate or my confidence which I also attribute to the internship. Additionally, interviewing for internship positions gives you some real interviewing experience (although it may not be structured the same way). 

Motivation. If you have been gunning for med school for the past three years, chances are you are a little burnt out by now. Taking a year off is (unexpectedly) an amazing way to recharge and regain some motivation going into your final year (and hopefully, four more years of med school). I raised my average by over 5% in my final year (not that they ended up looking at it because I was accepted out of fourth year hahah), just because school was new and exciting again. This may also have been due to some of the traits I acquired during my internship - i.e. one of my profs actually pulled me aside after class one day because of my answers on the exam were 'by far the best in the class'. This was a biochemistry class, and I can assure you I was no better than any of my classmates at biochemistry (I was actually a lot worse) - but I had the ability to assess the questions properly and organize/communicate my answers concisely and clearly (thanks to all that technical documentation I slaved over during my internship). 



- Time. Working for a year will delay your graduation and most of your friends will probably graduate without you (but a year later when they are struggling to find a place in the 'real world' they will be jealous of your status as a comfy undergrad). If you know where you want to go and are in a rush to get there, a year of unrelated work experience may feel like forever though. 

- You may get stuck doing something you hate (looking at a screen all day) or with people you can't relate to (almost everyone in my department had kids my age lol), but as mentioned - its a good opportunity to develop your ability to make the best of whatever situation you're in and build some character

- I'm not sure about this one, but it may be looked at disfavourably in your application to medical school in the sense that it may make it seem like you were unsure about medical school (?). I personally don't think this is the case, but you never know so its worth considering. I view it (and I think med schools should view it) as more of a strength in this sense because having an open mind and a more holistic/well rounded/realistic idea of what else is even available to you and having had the experience of exploring those options is a good thing. Rather than being just another kid who decided in grade 8 that they wanted to be a doctor (without even knowing what a doctor really was) and blew through the next eight years of their life without ever considering or trying anything else. That may just be me though. 


Anyhow, do some research about the internship program offered at your school and maybe look into some of the jobs available to get a sense of whether or not its something you could learn or benefit from. For me, it was maybe the best decision I have made in my life so. I am absolutely loving dental school and dentistry, and I know I 100% wouldn't have made it here without the experience. Everyone is different though. So if you have any questions, feel free to let me know (and I can write you another novel, lol). 


The end!

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If I were in charge of admissions I would put internship near the top of my list. I definitely feel that hands on, paid experiences are some of the best learning opportunities for students that makes them well rounded and suited to medicine. 


I agree with molarbare that internships are super useful both for yourself and your personal growth as well as medical applications. Don't underestimate the effect that an internship for example will have on your performance at interview.


Whether or not they help you much on med apps in real life is a different story, it definitely helps, probably not as much as I think they should, but it counts as a strong EC and honestly the more you learn from it the more it matters because you can reference it in essays, letters or interviews when you do apply. 


There are 2 trends I have noticed at the elite US medical schools in the last 5 or so years. The first is the "gap yah". People are taking a year off between undergrad and med school, in my opinion not because they were forced to, but because they wanted to (these people are graduating from elite colleges and then after a gap year heading to elite medical schools). In that time they often work a job in government, public administration, teaching or a think tank. I can't help but feel that those experiences would help them navigate medical school and residency more effectively.


The second trend is to extend the time of medical school by one year for research. Now this might not be popular with most, but I can see why it is being done. It bolsters your residency application and gives time to decide on specialty. Many medical students from the top 10 US medical schools are now doing their degrees in 5 years instead of 4. Sometimes they are awarded a M.D. with honours. 

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