Latest answers

Hi Hanna, I am a junior and I have finally decided I definitely want to apply to MD/PhD programs. Did you take the MCAT and apply in your junior year or senior year? Thanks! I love your blog, by the way :)

Awesome! I'm glad you like the blog! I took the MCAT and applied the summer after my junior year.

I want to apply to Urbana Champaign's MSP, but it's December and I don't know if it's too late to apply. Do you know if the program accepts students on a rolling basis? Would I be at a big disadvantage if I applied now? The official deadline is Dec 31. Also, does the program guarantee funding?

I'm glad you're interested! The MSP is great!

The MSP usually doesn't start interviewing students until after the deadline since they coordinate with the graduate programs, which have later deadlines. This year, though, they have interviewed some earlier (but not too many that I'm aware of). I have friends in the program who applied pretty close to the official deadline and still made it in, so it doesn't hurt to try!

As for funding, MSP students are funded just like any graduate student during the PhD portion (tuition waved and a stipend). They may have to TA or they get an RA each semester, but either way, they will be funded (how depends more on the graduate department and the specific advisor). For the last three years of medical school (aka after completing the PhD), MSPs receive about 60% of the stipend they received as a PhD student. Sometimes this is provided freely or as a TAship depending on funding available.

As a MD/PhD student, do you have any time for yourself? For family and friends? To just take a break? I would like to do a MD/PhD program, but I want to enjoy my 20s...

Of course! Check out my full response here: http://mdphdtobe.com/2014/08/05/time-balance-as-a-mdphd-student/

Hi Hanna. I am applying to medical schools this year. For the AMCAS activities experience/description section, what did you discuss besides the "what did I do?" Also, did you write it in narrative or a resume format? Any help would be appreciated! Thank you : )

Since the activities/experiences section descriptions are rather brief, I retained a resume format for my basic descriptions. First, I did my best to explain each activity. For example, I explained that my marching band was a 300-member ensemble that performed at home football games and parades, and I explained that the purpose of my sorority was to promote an appreciation of music, develop leadership, and empower women. After establishing what the activity itself was, I then explained my specific role within the activity. On the other hand, my most meaningful essays took on a more narrative format.

Should I contact a few professors about being interested in pursuing the PhD part of my MD-PhD in their lab? I am very sure about the department I want to join for my PhD. I know that people contact PIs for PhD programs and didn't know if that was common practice for the MD-PhD as well.

As an MD/PhD you are still a PhD, so what applies to PhD students applies to you. If you connect with potential PIs before applying, you can then possibly include in your secondary application (especially for the "Why this school?" question) that you are interested in a certain lab or labs and have corresponded with the PI(s). It can show that you're serious about attending the school, which will definitely help!

Have you ever had a proffessor who disliked you, and by discouraging you (bad grades, not acceppting my lab reports even thought they are similar to others, saying discouraging comments to be) made you stop loving the subject he/she teaches? I feel like I´m losing motivation to study :/

I can't say I've ever had a professor that didn't like me, but going to a large university, I didn't really get a chance to know my professors anyway.

If this is happening to you, your options seem to be notify someone that you're being mistreated by this professor, drop the course and retake it with a different professor, or try to push through and perhaps speak with the professor about how you can do better/try to create a better relationship with the professor (though risking the chance of getting a bad grade in the course by continuing in this situation.) It is definitely challenging to succeed when your environment is discouraging you from studying, so I would suggest doing something to make the course better for you so that you will get the most out of it. Good luck!

Hi :) I was wondering, how important is volunteering for med school? Can you compensate volunteering with other extracurriculars? What were your extracurriculars (the ones that you listed on your med application) if you don't mind me asking. Thank you :)

Extracurricular activities in general are incredibly important for medical school. They allow the admissions committees to know a little bit more about you other than your GPA and MCAT and they can show that you can be dedicated to an organization or a cause, which is incredibly important since medical school requires extreme dedication. Volunteer work specifically helps to show your dedication to the community, that you can deal with people, and that you're willing to do so without a financial reward. If you can find other extracurriculars that show all of these things, then that could likely substitute for volunteer work but it's generally easiest to do through volunteering. Even if it's not specifically a volunteer position, you can still get such an experience. For example, my sorority did a lot of volunteer work so I emphasized that in my application.

My AMCAS activities were: Volunteering at a hospital for 6 years*, University of Minnesota Men's Hockey Band, research in a genetic engineering lab, working as a cashier at Target, receiving an undergraduate research fellowship, earning an undergraduate research grant, being a leader in a sorority, working as a receptionist at an apartment building, research in a medicinal chemistry lab*, and being a leader in the University of Minnesota Marching Band* (*listed as most meaningful experience.)

Hi! How do you prevent yourself from feeling jealous of your classmates who have better grades? Grades are so important in med schools, and I do my best, I study, work hard but my grades are not that great as some of my classmates...and I get super jalous, think I´m more stupid than them etc..thanks

Grades are important, yes, but how comfortable YOU feel with the information is what really matters. I try not to compare myself with the rest of the students, especially in medical school. As long as you're in the same range of scores as the others, that's definitely ok! Obviously, the higher the grade the better, but sometimes you're just not going to be the best. It's medical school, so you're surrounded by a ton of other people who are also incredibly smart, which means keeping up is doing pretty darn great when you realize the sheer awesomeness and intelligence of the great group of students that you're comparing yourself to. Rather than being jealous and perhaps giving yourself a hard time about it, use it as motivation!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully not in Champaign anymore! Assuming I'll be done with my dual degrees in 7 years (4 more for PhD & M1 plus 3 for M2-M4), I'll *hopefully* be finishing up an internal medicine residency and moving on to an oncology fellowship at a major research hospital as I prepare for my career in academic medicine.

That being said, I've learned that serendipity is a recurring theme for many of the people who I've heard speak about their successful careers. Therefore, it is with an open mind that I approach my future because who knows what opportunities will arise or where my interests will lead. All I can hope is that I will be somewhere doing what I love.

How do you have the time to do EVERYTHING??? Like writing, studying, teaching, going to classes/seminars, etc. etc. Don't you get tired? Burnt out? Any tips to prevent that?

I get asked this all of the time, and honestly, I don’t know. There are just too many things that I’m excited about doing and so I just work hard to get everything done!

I guess it starts with being organized to make sure that everything gets done on time. To do this, I have an extensively filled out agenda including color-coded highlights for everything that I cross off as I complete them. You can see an example week from earlier this semester in the attached photo. Orange is class. Yellow is other events (mainly hockey games – can’t miss watching those!) Green is TAing. Blue is book chapters that I’m not required to read but that I want to keep on schedule to read. Purple is seminars and lab related things. Oh and the numbered days in boxes are me keeping track of where I am in an experiment.

I don’t really get tired from all of this other than the fact that caffeine does little to help me stay awake anymore and I can’t go on four hours of sleep like I did as an undergrad. As for burning out, I think my chances of burning out would be MORE likely if I was doing LESS things – but that’s just me. I like doing so many things because it makes life more exciting. I’m not just focusing on research or medical school or writing but I can hop between all of these things and when I get sick of one and I can work on another.

My best tip for preventing burning out is do what you love. If you’re involved in an activity that’s just not your thing but it’s something to put on your resume, I’d rethink doing it. Or if it’s something that you absolutely must be doing (like class), try to find the good in it (I am an extreme optimist so that probably helps me.) Also, make time for yourself! I have a rule that I will not study or do work on Friday or Saturday nights; those nights are for friends and it makes getting through the rest of the time that much better.

You have been such a successful blogger/writer! I am interested in blogging about medical school & such, so I was wondering if you know anything about copyright infringement on sharing content, images, etc.? Thanks for being such an awesome inspiration!

Thanks! I love to hear of other people who are interested in blogging!

Dealing with copyrights is something I'm still learning about (and I'm slowly going through my blog to confirm that I can use photos). But here's what I know:

If the content that you're using is in the public domain (no longer in copyright term, not protected by copyright law, or, more formally, unavailable for private ownership or available for public use), then it is okay to use without attributing it to the person/company holding the copyright (since there is none!)

If the content is copyrighted (look for the original source to find that information, someone else may have inappropriately taken the content and not acknowledged the copyright), then there's a couple different cases. Some will allow use as long as the copyright and owner are attributed. Others put restrictions such as prohibiting commercial use. Others will require that you pay to use it (and still attribute the owner and copyright).

Also, make sure the status for the copyright is valid for the country through which you will be publishing the work. For example, I write for a German website, which means that I have to check the German copyright status of the photos that I use.

For more information, http://creativecommons.org/ is a good resource.

Do Canadian med students have to take step 1, 2, etc?

If you want to be licensed to practice medicine in the United States, you would have to take step 1, 2, etc. of the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Exam). But if you wish to be a licensed physician in Canada, it is from my understanding that there is a different set of tests to take. You can read about them here: http://mcc.ca/examinations/.

Are you naturally this brilliant?? or do you work really hard?

A bit may be natural but the rest is hard work. Even more, I'd attribute it to my enthusiasm about what I do, my confidence in myself, my optimism that I will be able to achieve what I want, and my willingness to go out and do what I must to reach my goals.

going of on my biomed sci/eng question, why did you choose to major in chem? what did you plan to do with your chem degree?

In high school, I wanted to do pharmacy. I shadowed a pharmacist and she told me that chemistry was very important to know as a pharmacist. So, I began by taking AP chemistry in high school and I fell in love with the topic.

When it came to choosing my college major, I actually intended in following in my older brother’s footsteps of majoring in both chemistry and biochemistry because I knew that biochemistry would be applicable to my future. As I could only list one major as my top choice on my application, I just randomly put chemistry first and biochemistry second, and ended up getting placed in the College of Science and Engineering with the intention of majoring in chemistry.

I hoped to then add on the biochemistry major as well, but with it being in a different college, the College of Biological Sciences, it was a challenge to meet the requirements of both colleges and complete both degrees in four years. Therefore, I decided that instead of actually adding in the second major, I would simply take all of the upper level classes related to biochemistry/biology as I desired to know what their upper division students know without their excessive introduction to biology courses.

Throughout college, my interests shifted from pharmacy as a professional career to research pertaining to the development of therapies and further to clinical medicine to complement that research. It was that interest in therapies that kept my interest in the chemistry major as chemistry is the basis for drug design. I knew I would later be able to shift my primary focus to more biological sciences but I believed the background in chemistry would make me a better biologist.

While I’m no longer doing just straight-up chemistry, I do not regret the decision to keep that as my major. I’m lucky that my university was flexible and allowed me to take classes outside my major rather freely. If you wish to see all the classes I did end up taking outside of my major that show that your education shouldn’t be defined by your major, check out my blog post: http://mdphdtobe.com/2013/08/14/undergraduate-curriculum/.

Hi. So I'm applying for university and am not sure whether I want to do engineering or honours biomed sciences. Both interest me (biomed sci more), but engineering seems like a good back up plan if i dont get into med school, but i feel that it may make it hard for me to be competitive... thoughts?

There’s no easy answer when it comes to picking a major. But fear not, what you major in should not hurt your medical school application. People from a great range of majors get into medical school this year, not just those in the biological sciences. You could major in art history for all the admissions committees care as long as you take your science pre-requisites, do well on the MCAT, and can show that you are both passionate about this area of study and are passionate about medicine.

If you are quite concerned about your ability to get into medical school regardless of your major, then perhaps engineering would be a safer bet. You could possibly focus on bioengineering, which would be a great way to tie in your engineering focus toward medicine and prepare you for a possible back up career in industry.

If I were in your case, I would probably major in what interests me the most. It is much more rewarding and motivational to major in what you are passionate about and it will lead you toward a career that you are passionate about. I’m also a big fan of not actually choosing but finding a way to incorporate both of my options, which biomedical engineering would do in your case. But if just biomed sci is what you’re most interested in, I would suggest doing that.

What inspired you to start your blog? Also how did you start it?

I’ve never considered myself a person who liked to write. I took AP literature and composition in high school but I’m still not sure why I decided to do so. Writing lab reports and papers for class was a long process and was not one of my favorites. Otherwise, I didn’t take a writing course until senior year of college.

Two summers ago, I was working on my medical school application and writing like crazy to make my personal statements the best they could be. As this process wore on, I could really see my story come alive in my writing, and it was a great feeling to express myself in that way. When it was done, I wanted to keep writing.

During that summer, I also made the twitter account that you now know as @MDPhDToBe (though at the time it was anonymous and went by @PreMDPhDLife). As I followed many medical students and pre-meds, I noticed some of the medical students had blogs and I thought that would be a great idea to share my experience, help others who aspire to go to medical school and give myself more opportunity to write!

To make my blog, I simply did a Google search for blog hosts. I looked into a few and ultimately decided that Wordpress was my favorite. The rest was simple – I used the website’s templates and customization features to make the design look how I wanted, I began writing, and I promoted my work to my twitter community.

okay, this may seem like a silly question... but do you have any tips on how to stay awake? with studying, extracurriculars, etc. i always feel exhausted and don't get enough sleep. also, tips on how to avoid burnout?

That's not at all a silly question! Exhaustion affects most of us as we go through college and instead of just trudging through it, it can be helpful to take the time to plan and figure out how to overcome it.

First of all, there's no real replacement for sleep when it comes to staying awake (it's counterintuitive, I know). Sleep is an essential part of our lives with a lot of great benefits. Now that I'm in grad school, I actually get 7-8 hours every night - it's been a long time since I've felt so awake during the day! No matter how much you try, caffeine will never replace it. I promise you that getting more sleep will lead to feeling more awake and will help you more productively use the time that you're awake! But not all sleep is equal, and so I encourage you to read my blog post about it here: http://mdphdtobe.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/mastering-sleep/.

Another thing you can do is get active! Exercise works wonders at helping you feel awake. Even if you don't have time to really exercise, take study breaks to walk around your apartment, around the block, whatever, just move. I recently wrote an article for Almost Docs on how to survival an all-nighter, which has this and some other helpful tips to stay awake no matter the time of day: http://almost.thedoctorschannel.com/7-keys-to-a-successful-all-nighter/.

I've actually found that being involved in extracurriculars helps me be awake because it is a change of what I'm doing. If I just sat around and studied all day, I'd feel really tired. But if I break up studying and class with some activities, I'm a much more effective when it is time to study. It keeps life exciting. It also helps with burnout. Being involved in so many different things keeps things balanced so if things aren't going so hot in one area, they're probably better in another area and I'm less discouraged. I also make sure to make time for friends as a way to relax from the stress of school and remember to really enjoy life while going through school. It helps put everything into perspective. :)

How important are grades for med school? Can other things make up for not achieving super high grades? I read that you got in with a 3.6 (I thought getting in required gpas near 4.0); what else made you a strong applicant? Not trying to sound rude or anything :)

Wow, what a great question for my 100th with this account. I could seriously write a book about the making of a strong medical school applicant and the application process, but I will refrain from elaborating too far as I try to answer your question. Nonetheless, my response is too long for ask.fm, so you can find it on my blog: http://mdphdtobe.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/grades-will-they-make-or-break-you/.

I'm in my 2nd yr. undergrad; I did not start off on the right track, academically, so my GPA suffered as a result esp. last sem. I recently got a research internship &decided to switch my major to Chem &stay another year. What advice would give in order to boost my application to the MD/PhD program?

I'm glad you're interested in the MD/PhD track! Don't let a low GPA get you down, as long as you continually improve it by doing well in your higher level classes, that should be able to offset it.

One of the biggest things that MD/PhD programs look for is solid research experience and a good understanding of what you were doing for the research and the general research process. Whether you just helped out in a lab or you had your own project in the lab makes a big difference. So that's great that you just got a research internship! If you have the time, learn as much as you can about it - learn the methods, learn the reasoning, learn the related material, it will help you become more involved and more prepared for a research career.

That being said, you're also applying to medical school and you need to be competitive with other pre-meds. If you can, try to get some clinical experience - shadow doctors, volunteer at a hospital, work in a nursing home, etc. Get an understanding of what it's like to be a physician. Even better, if you can shadow a MD/PhD, that would be beneficial to really know what an MD/PhD does, so you can speak directly about your understanding of their lifestyle and job. When applying, you'll need to show that you know what you're getting yourself into and show your passion so having direct experience to talk about is key.

Schools also like to see that you' can be really dedicated to something whether it is science/medicine related or not. They like to see people who are passionate. So if you have something else that interests you as well, do it. But don't just do it, become involved, try to be an officer, plan events, whatever. The quality of your activities matters more than the quantity. For example, I'm passionate about music, I was in marching band and I became a leader in it. I joined the band's sorority and became a leader of that as well. I really cared about it, which showed through my choice to take responsibility for the organizations' successes as a leader.

I know this is a lot, but you don't have to do all these things and surely not all at once. Ease yourself in, you have time. Most importantly, don't do too much if it's affecting your grades. Make your focus on bringing your GPA up, and fit in the rest around that goal. Best of luck!

In addition to your list of being a future MD/PhD holder, a TA, a Chem major, etc. consider yourself as a role model because you are certainly mine. :)

Aww thanks! I'm glad. :)

How do you avoid burning out? I spend a lot of time studying, yet also try to go out at least once every 2 weeks. I love science, but the amount of effort required to maintain good grades is starting to get to me. I've been doing well so far, but I don't know if I can do it anymore.

With all that I did as an undergrad and now as a MD/PhD student, I probably should have burned out at some point, but I honestly don’t think I ever have. While I did a lot of science between classes and research, I also did a lot of non-science things to keep myself being productive but focusing on something else. For example, I did marching band and was in a sorority in undergrad. When I needed a break from studying, I would work on memorizing music for a while or I would work on planning a project for the sorority. Now, I play piano and write as my release. It keeps me in the right mindset of being productive but is a totally different way of thinking.

Also, as social beings, humans need to do more with others than just go out every couple weeks. Marching band gave me an opportunity to hang out with people every day each fall for a couple hours. In the spring, I’d be in other bands and go to hockey games as a break. Basically none of my Friday or Saturday nights were spent studying. I also would study with friends so that we could take breaks and chat either about what we were studying or something else. It was a great way to be social but also productive. We’d support each other to keep ourselves going.

Even in my hardest semester of undergrad – where I averaged about 3 hours of sleep a night because of studying (which you shouldn't do) – I still made a point to do all of those non-science things.

Sure, when you’re overwhelmed with how much science you need to learn it may make the most sense to study it continuously. But taking breaks more frequently (and getting adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise!!!) helps your mind function when you do study so that you STUDY MORE EFFECTIVELY and it will help you avoid burning out!

This is completely unrelated to anything medical, but I'd just like to let you know that you're perfect. Like, can I marry you?...

Well, I'm flattered. :)

Not really a question... but I just want to say that you're very beautiful :)

Aww thank you!

(Me again!) What kinds of activities are MD/PhD programs looking for that varies from regular med school (except research, of course)? Does volunteerism, clubs, travel, etc. matter as much for MD/PhD? Also, what "counts" as a publication & what's worth including on your resume? Thanks!

Generally, MD/PhD programs require that the medical school admissions committee accepts you in addition to the MD/PhD admissions committee. This means that you need to woo the general medical school admissions committee as well, which will be helpful if you have more activities than just research.

For any admissions committee, there are no set requirements for things such as activities. All of the admissions committees I’ve ever experienced look at each applicant as a whole rather than checking your activities off a list to make sure you’ve fulfilled different categories of activities. If your activities can show to the committee that you know what you’re getting yourself into such as through volunteering at a hospital, you can be highly devoted to something such as by being involved in at least one organization for a long time and perhaps even taking a leadership role, and you enjoy taking care of others, it doesn’t matter what specifically are these activities.

While a solid research experience is essential for MD/PhD admissions (generally, at least an equivalent of a year of full time research is expected), simply working in a lab can be enhanced if you have something to show for it. For example, I was awarded a summer research fellowship and an undergraduate grant for doing research in undergrad. This showed that I showed enough promise to get rewarded for my work.

Another way to enhance your research experience is to publish your work. Generally, in science and medicine, a publication is any paper in which you’re named as an author and is published in a peer-reviewed journal. Getting your name on a paper shows that you’re not only being exposed to research but you’re being productive enough to contribute to a paper. But don’t worry; a lot of people don’t have any papers published by the time they apply to medical school.

I will be applying to medical school in the next few years and I was wondering how I should keep track of my activities. What activities are "important"? What are med schools looking for? How far should I go back (i.e. high school, summer vacations, etc.)? How should I organize the info. for AMCAS?

Very exciting!!! Best of luck!

The activities that are important for your medical school application are most importantly the activities that are important to you. They’re activities that can reveal something about your character and they’re activities that you’ve devoted yourself to, perhaps even by taking a leadership position. These don’t necessarily all have to be medically related. For example, I was in marching band, pep band, and a sorority. I listed all of those on my application and selected marching band as one of my most important activities. Medical school admissions committees want to see that you can be devoted to something, which I sure did by becoming a leader in the band and president of the sorority.

While not all of your activities have to be medically related, it is a good idea to shadow doctors, volunteer at a hospital, or find another activity that can give you first hand exposure to the kind of work that you’ll be doing as a doctor. These experiences won’t just add to your list of activities, they can help you get stories to include in your application essays and interviews that will strengthen your argument for why you want to be a doctor. Medical school admissions committees will want to see that you’re aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

As for how far to go back, medical school admissions committees generally only care about what you did since you started undergrad. That being said, I did include some activities from high school only because I continued to be involved in them throughout college such as volunteering at a hospital, which I began early in high school and continued until the end of undergrad. General rule of thumb, if it ended before you started undergrad, don’t include it unless it’s really, really good.

To keep track of your activities, you can write a curriculum vitae (CV, basically a longer version of a resume) and save it to your computer. Then you can periodically go back and add to this CV to update it (google “curriculum vitae” and you can find some good resources on how to make one). With each activity on your CV, you can include a description of the activity and how you were involved in it so that you won’t forget. This can be useful for other areas as well such as to give to a letter of recommendation writer so that they can know more about you and can write a stronger letter.


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About Hanna:

MD/PhD student here to answer questions med/grad school-related questions. Answers at: