How to Do Effective Research as an Intern

All internship years are clinical training programs.  That is what they are designed for and that is what they offer.  It’s an intensive experience designed to improve your clinical knowledge, decision-making skills, and procedural experience.  Most internships are not designed for you to do research. But you may want to try, as there are a couple of valuable benefits to doing research as an intern.

Being only one year in length makes it extremely challenging to start and finish a research project as an intern.  Combined with the long clinic hours you work, it’s no mystery why most programs don’t emphasize intern research. It is rarely successful.  I can count on one hand the number of interns I have worked with who got a published paper from their intern year, and all of those were either case reports or helping with an existing project.

In spite of these obstacles, trying to complete a research project during your internship year may allow you to develop a relationship with a faculty mentor and get a publication added to your CV.  Here are some steps to help you be successful:

1) Be realistic.  Do you _really_ want to give up the slight amount of free time you already have to do a research project?  Will you actually follow through and finish it? Will having a publication in submission really help your residency application that much?  If you start a project which you don’t finish, will that sour your relationship with the faculty mentor? Remember, most efforts at doing research as an intern will not be successful.  Make sure you can commit

2) Start early.  You have to start in your first month of the program if you expect to have anything useful on your CV by the time match applications are due in the beginning of December.  The only possible exception to this is a case report, but those you can’t really predict- you have to rely on them to come across your plate.

3) Find a mentor.  Hopefully you know what discipline you want to pursue after your internship.  Find a friendly faculty member and ask them about the prospect of doing research.  The best case scenario is if they have an existing project which just needs to be written up.  Other possibilities are helping with data collection for an ongoing project or starting your own.  Only start your own if you know it is easy to do, does not require extensive approvals (IACUC, IRB), and has a high likelihood for success.

4) Submit the publication before residency applications are due so you can write on your CV, “Submitted for publication”.  As noted, many interns start research, but few actually finish it. For me, a line on a CV which reads, “Comparison of This Thing with Another Thing.  Research in progress” is basically valueless. Starting a project is easy. Untold thousands of research projects are started every year. But do you finish it?  Ah, now that is something worth noting on a CV

You don’t necessarily need research on your CV to be a competitive residency applicant.  Don’t force yourself to do a research project as an intern to fill out what you think is a deficiency on your CV.  Only pursue it if you are serious, dedicated, and passionate. It can be a valuable experience, but it also has the potential to create poor feelings due to a project not being finished.  Be honest with yourself and your potential mentor, and you may be successful.

2 thoughts on “How to Do Effective Research as an Intern

  1. AvatarVetMed Survival Guide

    Totally agree with #4 – so many CVs list research in progress (before I knew better I was part of the group as well!), and it really doesn’t mean anything. If it wasn’t accepted as an abstract at a conference or submitted for publication, it doesn’t really count much.

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