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md/phd residency interview experience

 Alright Andrew, you win. 

As an MD/PhD student residency interviews tend to take a unique twist as there is the very obvious 4-6 year old elephant in the room, which clearly differentiates us from other candidates who went straight through medical school.  Below are some questions/issues that came up during my residency interviews and those of some fellow mudphudders that I felt were particularly specific to being an MD/PhD student.  (Note that while these questions/issues may be more likely to come up if you are an MD/PhD student, they may be likely to come up as well for medical students who’ve taken a year or two to do research). 

  • The one issue that came up and I felt particularly annoyed about was how I would feel taking orders from people younger than me that may be more senior in the residency program.  I think I’ve written about this before, quite annoyed, in that this question quite frankly implies that MD/PhD students are all arrogant asses.
  • You will get questions about your research.  This should in theory be really easy address since much of graduate school is spent describing ones research for presentations and in articles.  Most questions will require a superficial but eloquent answer/explanation but you will occasionally get quite in-depth or more involved questions.  The most involved question was actually a very open ended one where an interviewer asked me to describe one project that I worked one from start to finish.  The impression I got was that they wanted background, methods, etc.  So I just slammed them with my thesis seminar.  I had given that talk so many times (from previous lab meetings) that even though I hadn’t given it for about a year, I had it memorized stone cold.  Just know your research backwards and forwards.  This isn’t really something that you practice the night before the interview (although you should), this is just something that will come over time with practicing this over and over again.  Sounds painful but remarkably similar to what I’m going through in residency right now…
  • You may be asked if you would want/willing to take time off during residency to do research.  This may be particularly important to some programs or residencies in general.  Know if this is the case and be prepared to respond as truthfully as possible because you will be held to your word.  If you don’t want to take more time off in the middle of residency, then you should explain why.  I’ve written about my personal opinion about research during residency before.  In short, I think it’s worthless for an MD/PhD student.  But you need to come up with your position and be able to eloquently explain/defend it. 
  • One question I often got was regarding how my phd research would be applicable to my chosen clinical field.   In short, it didn’t superficially but the benefits of graduate school go so much deeper.  I think I’ve written about this before in response to a reader’s question.  Read on to be reminded of my annoyance. 
  • You may occasionally get few comments on the quality of your publications.  Some good and some bad, meant to get a rise out of you.  Don’t fall for it and don’t take it personally.  You will spend/waste a good chunk of your scientific career having to defend your work against pointless criticism so get used to it.
  • You may be asked about how your lab experience might be beneficial to your time on the wards.  This is a freebie so be ready to nail it.  I personally took the approach that many lab experiences can be used to illustrate my capacity to handle the wards.  For example, working in a team at all levels from a newbie to being a leader, dealing with problem coworkers, thinking on your feet, bringing different people together to solve a common problem, etc.  If you are lucky enough to get this softball, make sure you knock it out of the park. 

Here are some questions posed to me by the reader who’s pushed me most into writing this post:   

  • Were you a prized possession?  Yes and no.  It really depended on who and where I was.  I think it definitely gives you an edge but then there some fields and some programs where everyone is a mudphudder so sometimes it doesn’t really seem to help much at all.   
  • Or perhaps treated with bemused disinterest by non-reseach/clinical-only faculty? Sometimes.  But in my opinion, it’s then on YOU, the interviewee, to find a connection between you and the interviewer that will spark an interesting debate.  Once again, you will spend a good portion of your scientific career trying to get people to be excited about your work (i.e. see the significance of it) for funding, if for no other reason.  And, interviews, if nothing else, are a test of your ability to engage your interviewers in a positive way.  When I found myself in a situation where a clinical faculty member didn’t know too much about my area of research or just wasn’t interested, I tried to find a way of communicating the significance of the work in the bigger picture and relating it to something the interviewer may have been interested in.
  • Were you ever challenged with specific questions about one of your publications or asked to give a formal presentation of your work (I know the latter has happened with people).  Yes–see above.
  • Also, did you consider any of those PSTP programs that combine research with residency? Yes, but you need to be careful to weigh the pros and cons of these programs.  Namely, the advantage of getting to post-doc level research sooner vs. the hit that you will obviously take to your clinical training. 

If anyone has anymore questions regarding the mudphudder experience in residency interviews or if you any particular insights you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment.

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One Response to “md/phd residency interview experience”

  1. 1
    Andrew:

    Thanks for posting this, MP. I don’t know what your MSTP was like, but it’s funny how many of the 4th years at our program seem to fade into the horizon during that final semester…they’re away interviewing, match in March and, because graduation is right around the corner (and many people save a vacation month for the end of the year), aren’t really seen again at another seminar or retreat. This year, our director is going to initiate a post-match session with the 4th years as an opportunity for everyone else to get more feedback.

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