What Med Students Should Look For in a Research Fellowship

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • In recent years, taking a year off during medical school for research, aka a “research fellowship” has become more of a trend for students wanting to apply to more competitive residencies (think dermatology, orthopedic surgery, ENT, plastic surgery etc). This year off is typically taken between the third and fourth year of medical school and serves to increase the number of publications on your CV or strengthen your connections within your desired field. It can be especially helpful if you don’t have a home program in your desired specialty. Below is a list of a few questions to ask/things to look for in a research fellowship.
    • Does the mentor have a track record of matched fellows?
    This is an important one! What are past fellows up to these days? Were they supported in their application cycle? Did they match? Ask your potential mentor if you can be put in touch with previous fellows to ask about their experiences from their perspective. Most mentors who have good relationships with their past fellows will put you in touch with them and mentees will be happy to talk about their experience and rave about how their mentor supported them throughout the application process.
    • Does the mentor publish a lot/have their past fellows published a lot?
    If you take a whole year off for research, you want to make sure it is a productive year! Does the mentor publish frequently? How many papers did the past fellows publish with the mentor before their application cycles? Look up the mentor and past fellows on PubMed to get a good idea.
    • Is it paid or unpaid?
    Unfortunately, a lot (but not all) of medical student fellowships are unpaid. Sometimes medical schools can provide a stipend for students taking a research year but this is not a guarantee. If a fellowship you are looking at is unpaid, ask your school for funding options. There are also certain grants you can apply for outside of school, which would be a good thing to ask your potential mentor about. This is definitely something to consider.
    • Will you have co-fellows?
    There are certain mentors who have a lot of fellows at once (think up to 4+) and other mentors who only prefer to take 1-2 fellows per year. Having a lot of co-fellows can be nice because you can help each other and learn from each other but you also don’t want to get lost in a sea of fellows. Think about what works best for you!
    • Do you have an opportunity to work with other attendings in the department and be involved in other ways?
    If you are doing a research year at an institution that is not your home program, you should try to get to know the department! You can make connections with other attendings, work on papers with them and start to develop your professional network. This can be a challenge since your primary responsibility will be to your mentor, but there are other small ways to get involved with other attendings!
    • Are you interested in the subject matter?
    Not everyone is interested in research or going into academia, but try to find a fellowship that sounds somewhat interesting to you. You will be working there for a whole year so if you are researching topics you find interesting it will be more enjoyable, even if you don’t enjoy research in general! There are a wide variety of types of research fellowships within specialties- basic sciences, translational, public health-focused etc the list goes on. There is a TON out there! Spend time asking around and looking online for research year mentors and opportunities. Take your time in choosing the right one for YOU.
    These are just some basic things to think about when you are looking for research fellowships. Of course, don’t forget to think about the type of environment and people you work best with. When you are working closely with people for a year that type of thing really matters. Good luck!
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