Neuroscience (Psychology) senior Jesus Correa
My internship integrated many aspects of preparation for graduate school, medical school, and neurological research. Among the things I had to do for my internship were researching institutions I would like to apply to and how to do it effectively, further exploring my research interests, and financial analysis prior, during, and after graduate study. Also I worked on fashioning personal statements for summer research programs and fellowships as well as discussing my current honors project with him. I gained a better appreciation for all of the things I must do before applying to a graduate program and have a concrete idea of all the things I must do to reach my goals.
One of the first things my graduate student mentor John Dennis and I discussed was composing an effective personal statement and the process of obtaining strong letters of recommendation. I learned more about how crucial the personal statement and letters of recommendation are to one's success in gaining admission to graduate school. Applying to graduate school is considerably much more than good exam scores and relevant work experience there is an additional important factor, the human element. Graduate schools are interested in how well an individual can communicate the reasons why they intend to go to graduate school in the first place, and what they can contribute to the department and laboratory they are interested in working in. Also, the applicant gains a significant advantage over other applicants if he or she has strong written endorsement by previous faculty members or researchers. The personal statement and letters of recommendation are not only for application to graduate school, but play a very significant role in applying for funding and fellowships. I learned very much about the intricacies of the application process and all of the things that must be done to ensure a strong application, from extensive resume building, to networking with faculty members at my home institution as well as other universities.
My graduate student mentor proved invaluable in helping me where to begin looking for graduate education and the types of graduate degrees such as PhD and MD/PhD. We began by discussing my interest in the field of neuroscience and worked on assignments that helped me find out what aspects of neuroscience are the ones I really enjoy, and which faculty at what institutions share my research interests. John applied to many institutions for graduate study and pointed out that it is very good to branch out and conduct research at different institutions when given the chance, in order to learn about different approaches to what may be the same research question. My mentor and I also had many discussions on the benefits and costs of pursuing different graduate degrees. Presently, I feel more confident than I used to about choosing the MD/PhD path in neuroscience. By learning more about the MD/PhD program, I learned that I can combine my interests in research with those in clinical responsibilities. The ability to coherently discuss what I like about research and even specific research problems is something I improved on during this internship. I gained a better understanding of what I want to do and what pathto take as well.
My mentor and I discussed potential financial situations I would be placed in if I decided to pursue an MD, PhD, or MD/PhD degree combined with clinical duties. I learned more about how MD/PhD students are funded throughout their time of study as well as salary figures for MD researchers, PhD researchers and MD/PhD researchers who also have clinical duties. I learned that the MD/PhD pathway is most financially feasible for me and has any opportunities for funding and fellowships as opposed to only PhD or only MD paths. I found discussions on this topic very useful as the economic aspect of education must always be considered.
My mentor and I worked on assignments that helped me gain a better idea of where I should spend my summers doing research and what types of programs are offered by different universities. I learned a great deal about the graduate programs of various universities regarding neuroscience, and did enough research on the subject to rank universities based on how much my research interests meshed with theirs and specifically what their faculty members are researching. I found that many schools I intended to apply to in the northeast for graduate study do not have faculty members working on research that I am interested in, such as diseases of the brain and central nervous system, as well as nerve regeneration. I learned that the University of Pennsylvania and UT Austin held the closest matches with my research interests as well as my desire to attend those institutions for graduate study. I will apply to Penn and UT Austin for additional summer research experience as well as other institutions I ranked highly so that I may further complement my textbook knowledge and laboratory experience with knowledge about how other universities approach neuroscience research questions.