Scientific research is often filled with setbacks, and a journal publication is never guaranteed. However, a published research paper is a powerful tool to have in your premed application arsenal, particularly for competitive, research-oriented medical…
Scientific research is often filled with setbacks, and a journal publication is never guaranteed. However, a published research paper is a powerful tool to have in your premed application arsenal, particularly for competitive, research-oriented medical schools.
These three tips can help you maximize your chance of publishing a research paper.
Start early, or take extra time. It takes a great deal of effort to publish a research paper. Particularly in biomedical research, you need time to learn about the field, learn relevant techniques, set up experiments, repeat experiments, analyze data and write up the results.
Moreover, it takes additional time to submit the paper, wait for reviewers and possibly re-submit the document before a final acceptance, all of which may take months, if not years. This is why it is essential to start research early enough to meaningfully contribute to a project which may lead to a publication.
Some students may find themselves reluctant to jump into research in their freshman or sophomore year because they feel as if they need more scientific training through their courses. However, much of the training in research will be learned on the job, rather than in class.
Starting research early in college will allow you to decide whether the project or the lab group is the right fit for you and increase the odds of successfully publishing a paper. If it makes sense for your career trajectory, you can take extra time by taking gap years in research years before applying to medical school to beef up your research credentials.
Find a good project and an excellent research mentor. One of the most critical factors of increasing your chances of success is to work with a good research mentor. “Your principal investigator (PI), has perhaps the largest impact in shaping your research experience,” Ryan Brewster, a third-year medical student at Stanford University School of Medicine, wrote in an email.
“They should have a vested interest in your professional development, part of which includes contributing to projects that have the potential to be published. The size of the research group and internal hierarchy can also make a significant difference. The smaller and more democratic a team, the more ownership you can potentially have,” he says.
When you find a potential research mentor, ask about which projects have the best chance of publication success and how you can contribute. Discuss the specifics of what you need to contribute to get a co-authorship on a paper before starting so that the expectations are clear.
Persevere and reach out for help. Research is filled with setbacks, and too often, you may find yourself facing a roadblock or a bottleneck in your project. At this point, it’s easy to become discouraged and call it quits. However, perseverance is an important trait to have, both in research and in medicine.
Brewster suggests finding help by exploring existing literature or consulting your lab mates.
“Troubleshooting can open up a world of frustration, but addressing problems as they arise saves you time when you are farther along. Consult your research mentors and colleagues, who very well may have struggled with something similar,” he says.
These three tips may help you to increase your chances of publishing a paper before medical school, but according to Brewster, medical schools are more interested in what you’ve contributed and learned from your research experience.
“Interviewers will be primarily concerned with your depth of knowledge and interest in your work. Publications are a tangible measure of your productivity, but anyone who has experience in research knows that many projects do not materialize as planned or even reach completion,” he says. “This does not mean that your intellectual contribution was any less valuable.”
“Far more important than the number of publications is a demonstration that you have wrestled with the scientific process and appreciated the bench-to-bedside partnership in a way that can benefit your time in medical school and beyond,” he adds.