While medical education is broad and diffuse, higher education is narrow and focused. This concentration largely consists of intensive work in a research laboratory. Choosing a research area and department, exploring labs, and meeting principal investigators can be both scary and exciting. Our MSTP uses several approaches to help trainees make optimal choices for thesis labs and advisors at UCSD or affiliated institutions.
Interns use elective time in the School of Medicine to do laboratory or “reading” internships with faculty. In these rotations, trainees evaluate potential lab mentors and earn elective medical school credits. These rotations generally count towards graduate program requirements. The best times to do research lab rotations are the summers before first year medical school classes and between first and second year. Two rotations, each lasting about 5 weeks, can be done in one summer. Interns arrive in the summer before Medical School classes begin rotating through one or more labs. Some interns also rotate during the academic year.
Trainees typically choose a thesis lab before joining a graduate program. MSTP interns are accepted, in principle, into any of the major graduate programs, even if they formally apply to these programs in the middle of the second year of medical school. Lab dynamics are important in choosing a lab. The size of the lab, the level of technical support, the organization and the general ambiance of the lab are all factors to consider. Some believe that an interesting scientific problem is the most important deciding factor in a laboratory. However, a good principal investigator may be able to design a variety of interesting projects, and a good lab environment can facilitate rapid progress on a thesis project.
Each graduate program has several requirements. These include lab rotations (usually three) and completion of certain courses. In some graduate programs, there is an accelerated study program (for example, entering as a second-year intern, some classes are waived, and leniency in TA requirements). Advancement to candidacy typically occurs in two to three years, with doctoral work being completed on average in four years or less.