Barbara Burton, Class of 2017
First thing’s first. You do not have to do research. If research is something you have absolutely zero interest in, please don’t feel obligated to do any during your pre-clinical years. If the day comes during your clinical coursework that you realize you want to do a specialty that requires research experience, such as Dermatology or Radiation Oncology, faculty will be more than happy to help you find projects to get on board with prior to submitting your residency application. There are plenty of students who decided to do these kinds of specialties late in their training and matched.
Also, don’t get involved with a project unless you are genuinely interested in the questions at hand. Any project has its mundane points (like data coding…), but if you are not at least intellectually invested in the outcome of the study, it will be obvious when someone asks you about the experience during a residency interview. People will enjoy hearing about your passion for discovery much more than hearing about the number of publications you have.
That being said, doing research is a great way to expand your scientific literacy and also to explore the intellectual climate of a specialty you think you might want to pursue. As a practicing physician, even if you are not involved with research, you will need to be able to seek out and interpret the scientific progress of your field in order to make the best clinical decisions you can. So, it’s a good idea to get used to exploring and comprehending the literature early.
Because UTSW values it so much, it’s extremely easy here to find a research mentor. Literally, all I did was look through the faculty profiles on a specialty I liked, found a professor whose work was interesting, and emailed them a super formal email. If you do it this way, just make sure you have a decent understanding of the work they do and be able to tell them why you are interested in their lab specifically. Alternatively, you can also approach a faculty member you already know and ask them if they know of anyone in their department open to taking a medical student in their lab. I was involved with two very different projects during medical school, and approached one mentor via email and the other via faculty. Do whatever you’re most comfortable with.
When it comes to residency applications, every specialty (and every program) places differing values on research experience. Some expect you to have publications in their specific field, others just want ANY experience, and others don’t care at all. I’m entering Psychiatry, so research is not important for my application. I just did it because I enjoyed it and felt that I gained valuable skills from the work I did. If you aren’t sure of what is expected in the specialty you like, talk to an upperclassman applying for it, or talk to the program director for that specialty here.
Again, don’t feel pressured to be involved in this or any other type of extracurricular activity from the start of school. You will collect interests as you go, and even after you have gotten settled into school, taking on something that you aren’t genuinely excited about in the name of your resume will only drain you and make you unhappy. I did nothing outside of my coursework for the first year of school, and I still had plenty of chances to do research and other activities later on.