Question of the Week: Summer Research at Princeton vs. Elsewhere

Friday, Nov 30, 2018

Hi HPA – I'm debating between MD, PhD, or MD/PhD. I was thinking of staying at Princeton to do research this summer, but a friend told me that you told them to look at other schools. Is it okay to stay on campus? 

Every summer opportunity comes with benefits and limitations that you'll weigh to decide what best suits your needs and goals. Staying on campus can lay the groundwork for deep engagement in a lab that can last over multiple academic years, which is certainly a benefit. And of course, we have many top researchers and incredible facilities. What we don't have is an academic medical center, where education, research, and healthcare are prioritized in the same space, and where physicians, researchers, attendings, residents, medical students, and undergraduates are all working and learning alongside each other. If you're considering MD and MD/PhD, it can be extremely beneficial to see what it's like in an academic medical environment, find mentors at many stages of their professional development, and have easier access to shadowing and patient-facing volunteering. Other potential benefits: many schools with MD/PhD and/or biomedical research graduate programs design their summer experiences to help you make informed decisions between career paths; you gain exposure to a new context (maybe even at a grad/professional school you might like to attend); you may find more diversity in your peer cohort; you may gain new skills or perspectives that you can bring back to inform your research direction here at Princeton.

That said, if you find a great opportunity at Princeton versus one you're less excited about elsewhere, take the one at Princeton! You can find other ways to keep learning about the MD and MD/PhD career paths, find a practicing physician-scientist mentor, etc. If you do stay on campus, it wouldn't hurt to do some shadowing (minimally), or ideally, volunteer at the hospital, return to a clinical volunteer opportunity at home after your summer research has ended, or otherwise find ways to build your bedside manner and gain perspective of human illness and the patient experience through direct interaction with patients.

QOTW in 2017: How Much Science?
QOTW in 2016: Committee Letter from Princeton or Postbac?