How to Write M.D.-Ph.D. Application Essays

M.D.-Ph.D. applicants should write essays that highlight their scientific curiosity and knowledge.

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M.D.-Ph.D. applicants are usually expected to write more admissions essays than traditional medical school applicants.

Pursuing an M.D.-Ph.D. degree , which combines the rigors of medical school with the difficulty of a doctoral thesis, is not a challenge to be taken lightly. Becoming a physician-scientist requires demanding training; people who pursue this profession must be prepared to both heal sick patients and conduct biomedical research.

M.D.-Ph.D. programs usually last between seven to eight years, so admissions officers for these programs want to ensure that the students they choose are ready to commit to many years of strenuous study.

Admissions officers also want to select students who have a history of conducting meaningful academic research and who have the potential to increase knowledge in the medical profession. Because M.D.-Ph.D. students frequently attend medical school for free through full scholarships and also receive stipends to pay their living expenses, M.D.-Ph.D. programs hold applicants to high academic standards.

Dr. McGreggor Crowley, an admissions counselor at the education consulting firm IvyWise who previously served on the Harvard Medical School admissions commitee, says that M.D.-Ph.D. programs seek students who are diligent and self-motivated.

"They're going to want someone who is going to dive into a project and take ownership of it and take control of it," Crowley says.

M.D.-Ph.D. applicants are typically expected to write more admissions essays than traditional medical school applicants. In addition to the personal comments essay , which is mandatory for all M.D. applicants who submit their credentials using the American Medical College Application Service, M.D.-Ph.D. hopefuls who use this application method are also obligated to write two supplemental essays. They must write an M.D.-Ph.D. essay, where they explain why they want both a traditional medical degree and a Ph.D. degree, and a significant research experience essay, where they describe the scientific research they have conducted.

Learn about how M.D.-Ph.D. programs

M.D.-Ph.D. admissions officers say that when they read these supplemental essays, they are looking for evidence that an applicant has the grit, initiative, academic aptitude and love of science necessary to excel in an M.D.-Ph.D. program.

Dr. Michael Donnenberg, the senior associate dean for research and research training at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and director of its M.D.-Ph.D program, says when he reads M.D.-Ph.D. applications, he looks for signs that these students wouldn't be satisfied by a career that didn't involve both clinical medicine and research medicine.

Pursue a medical career

"I'm always looking for that, not that they can't decide which one they want to do, but that they can't imagine giving one up for the other," he says. "I think that's a really essential quality of a physician scientist."

Dr. Andrew Zinn, director of the Medical Scientist Training Program and dean of the graduate school of biomedical sciences at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center , says he appreciates when M.D.-Ph.D. applicants demonstrate strong interest in a particular area of medicine. Ideally, applicants have completed a series of significant research projects on a specific topic, he says.

"I like to see somebody who has prioritized depth over breadth," Zinn says.

With that in mind, below are two M.D.-Ph.D. admissions essays that impressed admissions officers. The first is an M.D.-Ph.D. motivation essay submitted by a student who was accepted to the M.D.-Ph.D. program at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center but ultimately decided to go elsewhere.

md phd research essay

Zinn says one key reason why this M.D.-Ph.D. motivation essay made a positive impression is because it conveyed the applicant's strong interest in investigating treatments for a specific disease, which in this case was multiple sclerosis. Zinn says very few M.D.-Ph.D. applicants have identified the particular medical problem that they want to solve using their research.

"That's unusual for an individual at his stage of training," Zinn says. "It indicates a sophistication, a maturity. It's not absolutely essential, but it does stand out. It's unusual to see somebody who really found their passion in 10th grade and has worked toward that passion."

The second essay is a significant research experience submission authored by an incoming M.D.-Ph.D. student at Virginia Commonwealth University.

md phd research essay

Donnenberg says the aspect of this significant research experience essay that impressed him the most was how it conveyed the applicant's persistence when faced with research challenges.

While he personally doesn't care if an M.D.-Ph.D. applicant knows what field they want to study in the Ph.D, portion of an M.D.-Ph.D. program, he is focused on finding students who are prepared to handle the rigors of scientific research.

Donnenberg says he was especially intrigued by the applicant's description of the problems she faced in her various research projects, what she did to address those problems and the lessons she learned from those difficult circumstances. Many M.D.-Ph.D. applicants avoid discussing lab failures to only highlight the experiments that went well, but he was impressed that this applicant took the opposite approach.

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How to write your md phd essays.

md phd research essay

Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/22

Suppose you’ve decided that pursuing the MD PhD dual degree is right for you. In that case, you may have noticed that the application process is slightly different than applying to MD programs at allopathic medical schools. Namely, besides submitting the required application materials through the AMCAS, MD PhDs must also write two additional essays: the MD PhD essay and the significant research experience essay.

Today’s guide will review what an MD PhD is, what you can expect from MD PhD dual degree programs, and how to apply to MD PhD programs in the United States. You will also learn how to write compelling MD PhD essays by utilizing our tips for making your essays stand out. 

Are you ready to succeed? Let’s dive right in.

Get The Ultimate Guide on Writing an Unforgettable Personal Statement

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What is an MD PhD?

An MD PhD is also known as a physician-scientist or a medical scientist. An MD PhD holds both the Doctor of Medicine degree (MD) and the Doctor of Philosophy degree (PhD) in scientific research. 

The difference between MDs and MD PhDs is that while MDs are typically in medical school for the traditional four years, MD PhDs must complete four years of medical training in addition to three to four years of training to become physician-scientists. 

In total, MD PhDs complete their dual degrees in seven to eight years, making their pathway long and challenging but ultimately rewarding for those who are passionate about conducting biomedical scientific research. 

In short, MD PhDs combine clinical medicine with scientific research and have comprehensive knowledge of important topics in medicine. According to the AAMC , physician-scientists research various topics in the following disciplines:

  • Biochemistry and Macromolecular Biophysics
  • Bioengineering and Biomedical Imaging
  • Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Chemical and Physical Sciences
  • Computational Biology and Bioinformatics
  • Microbiology and Infectious Disease
  • Molecular Biology and Genetics
  • Neuroscience
  • Pathology and Mechanisms of Disease
  • Pharmacology
  • Public Health, Epidemiology, and Preventative Medicine
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences

What are MD PhD Programs?

MD PhD programs are dual degree programs that allow students to obtain their MD and PhD degrees simultaneously. The MD PhD curriculum is continuous, meaning you will work on both degrees throughout your medical and graduate school education. The following infographic provided by the AAMC breaks down what a typical MD PhD program looks like:

TimelineDescription automatically generated

Of course, there may be variations depending on the school’s curriculum, so be sure to check with the programs to which you apply to learn more about year-to-year coursework, training, and research. 

Currently, there are over 100 MD PhD programs in the United States, and over 40 programs are partially or fully funded by training grants known as MSTPs (Medical Science Training Programs). Because of these grants, most MD PhD students complete their dual degrees with very little or zero student debt. 

To decide which MD PhD program is right for you, you will have to do some preliminary research. Use the following checklist of questions to determine which program is a good fit:

  • Does the program have ample funding?
  • Is the location of the school desirable?
  • Is there a good balance between clinical training and research?
  • Does the school have a reputable history of strong publications and research?
  • Is the program multi-disciplinary, and will it provide plentiful topics to research?
  • Is clinical training introduced early in the program?
  • Are there mentors available to oversee research projects?
  • Are current MD PhD students satisfied with the program?
  • Are the school’s alumni performing high-level research and frequently publishing?
  • Does the program’s mission statement/culture align with your academic and career goals?

How to Apply to MD PhD Programs

Take a leaf out of Patrick's book: he got into six fully funded MD/ Phd programs with our help! 

The application process for MD PhD programs is similar to applying to MD programs. For most allopathic medical schools, you will use the AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service). 

Of course, not every medical school uses the AMCAS—osteopathic schools use the AACOMAS (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service), and Texas medical schools use the TMDSAS (Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Service). Be sure to verify that you are using the correct application service for the school to which you’re applying.

So, let’s revisit the AMCAS, as that will be the main application service you will use to apply to MD PhD programs. In the AMCAS, you must select “MD PhD” as the program to which you’re applying.

There are nine sections that you must complete in the AMCAS: ‍

Sections 1, 2, and 3

The first three sections in the AMCAS are where you will enter your basic information such as your name, background information, biographical information, identifiers, and the previous schools you have attended.

In section 4, you will enter all your information about course requirements (prerequisites) and school transcripts. 

In section 5, the AMCAS work and activities section, you will enter your relevant extracurricular activities , work experience, and hobbies . Strong extracurricular activities include, but are not limited to, clinical experience , medical shadowing , and volunteering .

However, the most important extracurricular you can participate in before applying to the MD PhD program is research . This goes without saying: You must showcase substantive research experience to gain a competitive edge over other candidates. Gaining substantive research experience requires some effort and commitment on your part. 

You should aim to have multiple summers of research experience throughout your undergrad program, and it is beneficial to have at least one year of continuous research experience. This may mean that you take a gap year before applying to the MD PhD program, but it will be well worth it to boost your application and show admissions officers your dedication and passion for research.

In section 6, you will upload all of your letters of recommendation . 

In section 7, you will select that you are applying to the MD PhD program. You will also enter any other information about the school, such as whether you’re applying for an early decision.

In section 8, you will enter your personal statement . For the MD PhD program, you will also submit two essays in addition to the personal statement. They are the MD PhD essay and the significant research experience essay. 

Section 9 ‍

In section 9, you will enter all information about standardized test scores, such as the MCAT .

How to Write Your MD PhD Essays

Tips to write MD/PHD Essays

The overall purpose of the MD PhD essay is to answer the question, “Why did you choose to apply to the MD PhD combined program?”

The MD PhD Essay

  • Demonstrates your reasons for pursuing the MD PhD dual degree program.
  • Focuses on why the combination of research and clinical medicine is right for you. (In other words, you can’t see yourself having just an MD or just a PhD. To feel the most fulfilled, you must combine both.) 
  • Shows that you are prepared for the rigors of both research and clinical medicine, not just one or the other.

Admissions committees want to ensure that the applicants they accept into the MD PhD program are devoted to the field. After all, why would anyone spend seven to eight years in research if they didn’t absolutely love it? 

To that end, the MD PhD essay must convince the admissions officers that you are passionate about research and can’t imagine doing anything except the work of a physician-scientist. 

To structure your MD PhD essay, follow academic and professional standards of writing. There should be a consistent format of an introduction, body, and conclusion. View the table below for a general outline of the MD PhD essay:

image of general outline of the MD PhD essay

A strong introduction immediately pulls the reader in and briefly summarizes your motivations for pursuing the MD PhD program. You can achieve this with a personal anecdote that neatly ties in your experience and goals. 

The body paragraphs are the meat of the content. You should detail how you prepared for a career as a physician-scientist by demonstrating your clinical and research experiences. Because of limited space, you should aim to write about two to three substantive experiences that showcase your strengths and what you learned. The body paragraphs should focus on quality rather than the number of experiences. The body paragraphs should also reinforce why the MD PhD path is right for you.

Finally, a strong conclusion leaves the reader with the impression that you are a strong candidate for the MD PhD program. You can achieve this by reiterating your motivations and goals, calling back to the introduction/personal anecdote, and concisely tying together your experiences. 

The Significant Research Experience Essay

The purpose of the significant research experience essay is right there in the title—to provide details about your significant research experiences. 

The significant research experience essay . . .

  • Provides details about your research projects and contributions.
  • Describes what you investigated and learned.
  • Discusses the durations of your research experiences.
  • Includes information about your mentors, such as their names and affiliations.

For the format of your significant research essay, you can structure it as a narrative that adheres to a general introduction, body, and conclusion. Or, you can structure the essay in entry format where each research experience has a subheading that includes identifying information about the research projects, mentors, and affiliations.

For example:

1. Professor X, MD/PhD, Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, February 2019 – March 2021

[Enter details about the experience here.]

If you prefer the entry format for your essay, it’s still a good idea to write one or two introductory sentences and a strong conclusion to tie everything together. Just because it is in entry format doesn’t mean it should be overly technical or indifferent. You should still aim to tell a compelling, unique narrative.

Tips for Making Your MD PhD Essays Stand Out ‍

To make your MD PhD essays stand out, use the following tips for success:

  • Be specific, not generic. While you shouldn’t weigh down your essays with overly technical jargon, it’s important to be specific in what you learned in terms of lessons and skills.
  • If you faced challenges, don’t write about the negative aspects, but emphasize a growth mindset and what you did to overcome the obstacles. 
  • According to the US News & World Report, very few MD PhD applicants identify a medical problem that they want to solve with their research. Use this to your advantage to stand out—admissions officers want to see a level of maturity and sophistication from applicants. It would go a long way if you described research experiences about a medical issue that you have personal connections with and aspire to solve with research.
  • Show, don’t tell. For example, instead of saying, “I improved my critical thinking and analytical skills while completing X research project,” demonstrate what that project was, your process of investigation, the outcomes you learned, and your flexibility in absorbing new information. If you show interesting narratives rather than tell, your essays will leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

1. What is the best pre-med major for MD PhD programs? ‍

Surprisingly, there is no best pre-med major for MD PhD programs, as medical schools do not have requirements for majors. Students are encouraged to pursue their passions and unique interests, even if that means majoring in non-science subjects (such as the liberal arts or the social sciences). That said, the most popular undergrad majors are in the biological sciences.

Whether you choose to major in the sciences or not, the only requirement you must fulfill is completing all prerequisite coursework. Every medical school has its own prerequisite coursework requirements, so verify that you are on track to complete all coursework, including labs. If you are unsure or need help with building your course schedule, speak with a pre-health advisor. 

2. Does it look better to have numerous research experiences? ‍

Yes and no. Find a balance. While you should have multiple substantive research experiences, the emphasis should be on “substantive.” In other words, aim for quality over quantity. What you learn and gain from your research experiences is more important than the number of experiences you have. 

Furthermore, having quality research experiences will make it easier for you to network with supervisors, mentors, colleagues, and peers. You can tap into this support system when you ask for letters of recommendation for your med school application. 

3. Can I have someone look at my essays before submitting them through the AMCAS? ‍

Yes! We strongly recommend that you spend time crafting your essays. Don’t simply type your essays in the application service and hit send. Write your essays over time, and expect to revise your drafts. Ask trusted peers, mentors, friends, or colleagues for their objective feedback. You can also consult with our team of experts.  ‍

4. What should I avoid in my MD PhD essays? ‍ ‍

  • Avoid clichés. You want your essays to be memorable to admissions committees who read thousands of these applications every year. Use language that’s compelling, descriptive, and tells a story. Make connections from your personal and professional experiences to the MD PhD program.
  • Avoid restating what’s already in your CV. You only have 3,000 characters, so every word counts. 
  • Avoid writing about negative experiences. Focus on positive reasons for pursuing the MD PhD and show a growth mindset. 
  • Avoid using a casual tone or language. Your essays should be academic and professional. 

5. Do I need to have publications before applying to MD PhD programs? ‍

Publications are not required for MD PhD programs, but having publications gives you a competitive edge over other candidates. Admissions officers are aware of how difficult it is to publish so early in your education, but if you do have publications, be sure to list them in your application. 

Also, keep in mind that regardless of your current contributions in research, whether or not you have publications, you must be knowledgeable about your research topics and have substantial research experience.  ‍

6. How many research experiences should I write about in my research experience essay? ‍

You should aim to write about two to three significant research experiences. This will give you a good balance of different research experiences to discuss, including what you learned and your contributions. Writing about two to three experiences will also ensure that you remain within the essay length requirement of the AMCAS, which is 3,000 characters.

Conclusion ‍

If you’re passionate about scientific research, the MD PhD dual degree is a great way to combine your love of clinical medicine and research. For most MD PhD programs, you will apply using the AMCAS. 

The application process is similar to traditional MD programs, but with the MD PhD, you will have to select that program within the application service. Additionally, you will have to write two essays specifically for the MD PhD program: the MD PhD essay and the significant research experience essay. 

To write strong, compelling MD PhD essays, persuade the admissions committee of your reasons for combining clinical medicine with research and why it’s the best pathway for you. Demonstrate how your research experiences have prepared you for a rewarding career as a physician-scientist. We wish you the best of luck as you pursue your MD PhD.

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How to Write Successful Md-PhD and Significant Research Experience Essays

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MD-PhD Essay

The MD-PhD Essay is a straightforward “ Why essay ” — in other words, admissions is hoping to learn why you’re pursuing the combined MD-PhD degree. This essay is limited to 3,000 characters, which comes out to about 500-600 words or one page single-spaced. 

In order to submit a winning MD-PhD essay, we recommend getting creative. Since these essays are so straightforward, it’s very easy for them to read as dry and impersonal. See if instead, you can tell admissions a story that will both answer the question, “Why are you pursuing a combined MD-PhD degree?” and reveal more information about yourself.

Maybe you want to open your essay with an anecdote from your dinner table in the late 90s, when you took your first stab at Operation (pun intended). Or perhaps your story starts at a cabin with your favorite relative, who encouraged you to find meaningful, rewarding work that serves your community. Regardless of where your story begins, try your best to frame it as just that: a story.  

Significant Research Essay

In addition to the MD-PhD Essay, you are required to write an essay that is frequently referred to as the Significant Research Experience Essay, which — you guessed it! — describes your noteworthy research experiences. In this essay, AMCAS asks applicants to specify their research supervisor’s name and affiliation, the duration of the study, the nature of the issue examined, and their specific contributions to the research effort. This essay is limited to 10,000 characters.

If your research resulted in a publication of which you were an author, you will also be asked to enter the full citation in the Work/Activities section of your application.

The Significant Research Experience essay is about as academic as they come, and for that reason, we advise you to stick to the facts. If you have notes, now is the time to reference them. If your research experience is lacking, use any extra space you have to focus on why the research experience was significant to you, and how you might continue to research this problem or event in the future.

Ultimately, like with all admissions essays, your goal for both of these assignments should be to give admissions a clear understanding of your background and the next steps you will take if you are accepted!

About Kat Stubing

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Written by Kat Stubing

Category: Admissions , Uncategorized

Tags: MD-PhD essay , med school , med school admissions , medical school , medical school applications , medical school secondaries , Significant Research essay


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By submitting my email address. i certify that i am 13 years of age or older, agree to recieve marketing email messages from the princeton review, and agree to terms of use., tips for applying to md-phd programs.

If you can’t imagine a medical career without helping patients and participating in research, you’ve probably considered the MD-PhD track. Learn all about applying to MD-PhD programs and get our expert tips for strengthening your application.

Is an MD-PhD Program right for you?

The MD-PhD is a dual doctorate degree program for students who are interested in careers as “physician-scientists." By graduation, you’ll have fulfilled requirements for both the MD and PhD degrees. The MD-PhD takes about 8 years to complete during which you receive medical training AND become an expert in a specific research field. The program also requires dissertation research in your field of graduate study, which can range from biomedical laboratory disciplines like biochemistry or genetics to fields like economics, sociology, or anthropology . After graduation, MD-PhD students usually work as researchers or as faculty members at medical schools and universities.

Learn more about MD combined degree programs .

md phd programs

What are Medical Scientist Training Programs?

Medical Scientist Training Programs (MSTP) are MD-PhD programs that are funded by the National Institute of Health. Students who are admitted to these highly-competitive programs receive full tuition coverage, living expenses, and a stipend. There are currently 45  NIH-funded MSTP programs .

Are all MD-PhD programs free?

Over 60 medical and osteopathic medical schools  maintain their own MD-PhD or DO-PhD programs that are not funded by the NIH. Depending on the school, these programs offer full or partial financial support for their students.

Applying to MD-PhD Programs

Nearly all MD-PhD programs use the same application process as MD admissions—via the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application . One key difference? MD-PhD applicants submit two additional essays: the MD-PhD Essay and the Significant Research Experience Essay:

  • The MD-PhD Essay asks you to explain your reasons for pursuing the combined degree program.
  • The  Significant Research Experience Essay asks you to describe your key research experiences, including your research supervisor's name and affiliation, the duration of the experience, the nature of the problem studied, and your contributions to the project.

Read More: Guide to Your Med School Applications

Do you need to take the GRE Test to apply for the Md-Phd Program?

Programs have different policies, so some schools may require both the MCAT and the GRE for combined degree applicants. For example, an MD-Phd in Anthropology at one school may require the GRE, while the MD-PhD in Immunology may not. Check with your prospective med schools to make sure you’re covered.

Timeline for MD-PhD Admissions

The MD-PHD application timeline is virtually the same as for MD admissions. (Remember you are using the same application service!) Here are the important dates for MD-PHD admissions:

  • Early May: AMCAS opens and begins accepting transcripts
  • Early June:  AMCAS begins accepting application submissions
  • October–March: MD-PhD applicant interviews
  • December–March: Admissions decisions sent to applicants
  • March–April: Md-PhD applicants make their final decisions
  • June–August: MD-PHD programs begin!

Tips for Boosting Your Md-Phd Application

Competition for MD-PhD applicants is fierce. After all, you have to convince medical schools to invest significant time and financial resources in you. Of the total 1,936 MD-PhD applicants in 2016–17, only 649 matriculated in a U.S. med school. Here’s what you can do to strengthen your overall application.

1. You need strong MCAT scores and a high GPA

If your grades and scores aren’t where they need to be, address it before you apply!  Check out these admissions stats for MD-PhD matriculants to U.S. medical schools from 2016-2017:

SOURCE:  Association of American Medical Colleges

Make a smart MCAT prep plan and retake the exam if necessary. Consider completing additional grad school work to raise your GPA and take advantage of our online tutors for pre-med requirements!

2. You need sustained research background + a clear picture of your future in research

3. you need the right recommenders.

Most letters of recommendation should come for your research mentors, professors who run the labs you work in, and the postdoctoral fellows you work with. Make sure your recommenders know that you are applying to MD-PhD programs as this will affect the letters they write.

Want to get an edge over the crowd?

Our admissions experts know what it takes it get into med school. Get the customized strategy and guidance you need to help achieve your goals.

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MD-PhD Programs: The Definitive Guide

Including a full list of all md-phd programs in the us and canada.

MD-PhD Programs

Your answer to the question “ why do you want to be a doctor? ” can help you determine whether MD-PhD programs are right for you. MD-PhD programs accept exceptionally bright and motivated applicants interested in becoming physician-scientists – this means that instead of focusing your time and efforts on clinical work, you will commit your life to scientific innovation and research. In addition to the demanding curriculum and extended period of study (7-8 years!), MD-PhD application procedures typically involve additional components and supplementary interviews.

Whether you are applying through AMCAS,  TMDSAS , or  OMSAS , you will be required to submit additional essay components explaining why you are the right fit for the MD-PhD program of your choice along with your  AMCAS personal statement ,  AMCAS Work and Activities , or TMDSAS application. In this blog, you will learn everything you need to know about MD-PhD programs, including a list of schools that offer MD-PhD programs, how to apply, and 5 tips to get accepted!

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Article Contents 17 min read

What is an md-phd program.

If you are contemplating between MD PhD vs MD , it's important to know what the MD-PhD programs entail. The MD-PhD program allows you to obtain a dual degree in both medicine and research to become what is known as a physician-scientist or medical scientist. After graduation, students will receive a combined MD/PhD degree with advanced, hands-on research training and expertise in a particular field of their choice.

Struggling to decide between MD-PhD and MD programs? Check out our video below!

The MD-PhD program is definitely not an easy one, it is designed for exceptional students who have a true interest and commitment to a career in medical research. If you're only interested in becoming a practicing physician, that doesn't require a PhD, so the MD-PhD program is not the right choice for you.

When considering if this program is well suited to your strengths and interests, ask yourself a variety of questions. Are you fascinated by the unknown? Do you find yourself asking why and how? Are you interested in a disease or condition that is commonly treated by physicians? Do you want to make new discoveries and implement what you've learned? Do you want to combine scientific research with medicine?  What is your greatest weakness ? If research is not your forte, perhaps MD-PhD programs are not for you. However, if you feel a definite drive and determination to pursue medicine and research at the same time, the MD-PhD program is a perfect option.

Does my PhD have to be in laboratory research?

PhD programs on offer vary from school to school, therefore, depending on the school you apply to, you may not necessarily have to train in laboratory research. The vast majority of MD-PhD students obtain their PhD in biomedical laboratory fields of study. This includes genetics, neuroscience, and immunology. However, some schools offer research in fields outside of the laboratory in fields such as economics, public health and sociology.

Although each program has its own curriculum, all MD-PhD programs train students to become competent physicians as well as skilled scientists. Most students complete the degree within 7 to 8 years. The length of your degree will depend on several factors, like your clinical requirements, PhD requirements, progress of your research, and the time needed to develop into an independent investigator, which is the primary goal of the PhD training. Typically, students can choose to divide their training into 2-3-2 track or 2-4-2 track. You start the program by mastering basic science courses as an MD student for 1 or 2 years, followed by an intense period of PhD research for 3 or 4 years. The PhD period is very demanding because you must complete your research, thesis writing, and defend your work within this short timeframe. The last 2 years are dedicated to clinical training.

This is a general outline, but each program may have its own approach. For example, there may be more research integrated into your first two years of study. Some programs may require you to participate in research labs during the summer between first and second years to get acquainted with programs and departments related to your research interests. Depending on your research, you may be required to start clinical training during your PhD component.

The general timeline of completion is as follows:

2 years of clinical training to prepare you for residency. After clerkships, you will complete the USMLE Step 2 exam and any other MD requirements of your program. "}]">

MD-PhD programs are not just a combination of two separate degrees. During your studies, you will be exposed to unique activities and training designed specifically for MD-PhD students. These will include courses and workshops, seminars dedicated to research and professional development, and sessions where you will be able to present your research. You will also be able to join your colleagues in student retreats and conferences designed specifically for this combined degree.

Having an MD PhD vs MD degree allows you to enjoy a career that combines both research and medicine. You have the opportunity for exploration, scientific discovery and medical intervention. Most MD-PhD graduates work in medical schools, research institutes or teaching hospitals, but there is also the option of working in public health, for pharmaceutical companies and even running your own lab.

How can I afford this program?

If a school is offering an MD-PhD program, they are very aware of the difficulty in training to become a doctor and researcher at the same time. They value physician-scientists highly and fortunately, most programs offer some sort of funding opportunities to students. This can include tuition waivers and a stipend to help cover the costs of living expenses. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) provides funding to 49 MD-PhD programs through the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). These programs are extremely competitive as the funding offers a tuition allowance and a basic stipend, with most institutions supplementing the stipend.

Want some more tips on how to pay for medical school? Check out our guide below:

Which schools offer the MD-PhD/MTSP program?

MD-PhD programs are not a prerogative of those seeking the easiest medical schools to get into . While their number is growing all over Canada and the US, here I've included an up to date list, which is also available on the AAMC website. In addition to this guide, the AAMC website is a great resource where you can find a variety of other helpful tools for MD-PhD prospective students.

The following tabs show the list of schools that offer the MD-PhD/MSTSP program in the US, organized state-wise and alphabetically. Please use the right and left arrow to navigate to more tabs.

Applying to an MD-PhD program is essentially the same as applying to an MD program. If you haven't already done so, you will have to write the MCAT. Check out our blog for the current MCAT test and release dates . Almost all programs use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) where you have a chance to apply as an MD-PhD applicant. As with MD programs, some will require a CV for graduate school , along with a statement of purpose . The only difference is that for MD-PhD applicants, you will be required to provide two additional essays: the first should answer why you want to pursue MD-PhD training, the second should showcase your research experience. There are a few programs that are using an alternative service for accepting applications, so be sure to check which service your program is using.

MD-PhD Program Requirements


MD-PhD programs require the completion of a four-year undergraduate degree and background in the following disciplines:

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These medical school prerequisites are the baseline. Your academic record should demonstrate that you have taken a variety of science and non-science courses. Admissions committees will note the difficulty levels of your coursework and your academic improvement over time. Make sure to check with your program of choice for any specific course requirements, i.e. advanced placement classes, online courses, etc. The most important prerequisite for MD-PhD programs is your research background and your experience in the lab.


According to the latest AAMC statistics, the average GPA of MD-PhD matriculants is 3.8, while the average MCAT score is 516. These are very impressive numbers and you must strive to at least meet these averages if you’re planning to apply. If your academic record does not reflect these numbers, you need to get your grades up. To improve your GPA, re-enroll in classes you performed poorly in and get a higher grade. Not only will this increase your GPA, but it also demonstrate your dedication, patience, and desire for improvement. Ask your instructors and teaching assistants if you can do anything for extra credit. Find a tutor or a study buddy to help with disciplines you struggle with the most. You can also plan your school schedule to include courses in disciplines you ace. If working on your GPA is not a priority for you, find out how to get into medical school with a low GPA .

Your MCAT score is an important indicator of your academic prowess. Before you take the test, make sure you know what is a good MCAT score and when to start studying for the MCAT . Give yourself ample time to prepare. Start by taking an MCAT practice test to figure out what areas of knowledge and concepts you need to improve. Create an MCAT study schedule that incorporates a variety of active and passive study strategies. Keep taking practice tests to see if you’re improving. If you consistently score at the 90% percentile in your practice tests, you can start planning to take the real MCAT. Remember, take the test only when you feel ready. If you’re still wondering “ When should I take the MCAT ?”, read our blog to get some tips.

Are you thinking of retaking the MCAT? Check out our tips below:

Altus Suite

Firstly, research whether your schools require the completion of the entire Altus Suite, or whether it's one of the medical schools that require CASPer only. If your schools require the completion of the entire Altus Suite, you will also need to complete the Snapshot interview and the Duet profile. It's challenging to prepare for all three Altus Suite components, but CASPer remains the most intimidating.

The CASPer test is an online situational judgment test that claims to assess the professional suitability of students applying to professional schools, including medical schools. The entire test is written on a computer and the students only receive their percentile scores. The test is comprised of 15 scenarios dealing with real-life situations. You are asked 3 follow up questions based on the scenario observed. The questions will ask you to answer how you would deal with the situations you witnessed. In the first section of the test, you are given 5 minutes to type your answers for those three questions. In the second section, you will be given 1 minute to record your answer to each of questions. The format is a challenge, so that's why it's so important to make sure you know how the CASPer test is scored .

You have probably heard that it is impossible to prepare for CASPer. It is indeed difficult, but there are important approaches that you can implement to ace your CASPer test! The key is to know what categories of questions are typically included in a CASPer test and to have a concrete answer strategy for each question category. This means that even though nobody knows what exact questions you are going to get on your test, you will have an approach for answering any questions that may come your way. Make sure you know how to prepare for CASPer and go over our CASPer practice questions to ace your test!

You will need to submit a total of three essays for the MD-PhD program if you’re applying through AMCAS. On top of your AMCAS personal statement, you will need to submit two additional essays: the significant research experience essay and the MD PhD essay . If you’re applying through TMDSAS, you will need to submit the Dual Degree essay along with the other essay application components.

While your medical school personal statement answers the question “Why do you want to be a doctor?”, the MD-PhD specific essays must demonstrate your research expertise and answer why you would not be satisfied with a career pursuing only one of the two programs. The significant research experience essay must outline the most valuable research experiences you’ve had. You will have 10,000 characters, including spaces, to give detailed accounts of your research projects: the nature of the problem studied, your role and contribution, duration of the project, and the name of your principal investigators and their affiliation.

Your AMCAS MD-PhD essay must be no longer than 3,000 characters long. The TMDSAS dual degree essay is limited to 5,000 characters including spaces. These essays must convince the admissions committees that you would be the right fit for the combined degree and how your experiences have led you to apply to it. Your MD-PhD essay should tell the story of how you became involved in scientific research and how you want to apply your research to medical practice.

Remember, in this essay, you must link your passion for research to clinical practice. Adcoms need to see that you can be both: an expert researcher and a competent MD. You must demonstrate why you are an ideal candidate for the combined program, so do not simply focus on your research background. Showing interest in research alone may eliminate you from the applicant pool – adcoms will think that you can simply pursue a PhD. While focusing only on research is great for the significant research experience essay, your dual degree and MD-PhD essays must be crossovers between your scientific research and the experiences you had working with patients and physicians. Ideally, you will be able to show how your research interests are inspired by clinical experiences or patients you’ve had a chance to work with.

Want to know how to write the MD-PhD essay? Check out our video below!

Research Experience

As an MD-PhD applicant, you must have substantive research experience. Having a quality research background will indicate to admissions committees that you understand what you are getting into and that you have been exposed to research methods and techniques. Ideally, your application will demonstrate that you have been involved in multiple research projects, including thesis research. Your application must show that you have dedicated a substantial amount of your undergraduate degree to scientific research, otherwise the adcoms might wonder why you are pursuing a research-oriented program.

What is most important in your research background is the quality of the experiences. You do not need to get involved in hundreds of research projects to make a great impression on the adcoms. Even one valuable research project can demonstrate your curiosity and commitment to scientific research. Having spent an extended period of time on a research project showcases your dedication, genuine interest, and high level of expertise in a research field.

Make sure you can identify what you have learned from your research experiences – you will have to outline valuable lessons and skills you acquired in multiple parts of your MD-PhD application and interviews. Ideally, you can discuss the relationship between your research experience and the medical field. Remember, you do not need to have an extensive background in medical or clinical research. Laboratory skills are transferable from discipline to discipline. However, even if you have little to no clinical research background, you must show that you have reflected on the relationship between your own research experiences and their application to the medical field. An MD-PhD application is a tough balancing act: you must always remember to honor the integral relationship between research and clinical practice.

If you’re looking to bolster your research background, try looking for research assistant positions on campus. Talk to your instructors and teaching assistants to find out if they are involved in research projects and whether they need help. Keep your eyes out for any research position postings on your school’s website or around science departments. If you’re no longer a student on campus, reach out to your former instructors and ask about research opportunities. You can also contact physicians you volunteered with or shadowed, to find out if they or their clinic are involved in research projects. Even if they are not, physicians can often recommend some names of organizations and other medical professionals who are research-oriented.

Keep in mind that if you apply to research positions, you will need to assemble a strong application, including a research assistant cover letter and CV. If academia is your passion, then you might want to look into special master’s programs . These graduate degrees are specifically designed to build-up students’ medical school applications and may help you improve the quality of your research background.

Are you looking for research positions? Check out our tips below:

While it’s true that MD-PhD applicants highly value research and progress, you do need to demonstrate to MD-PhD admissions committees that you have clinical background. It is one of the key extracurriculars for medical school , so having no clinical background will significantly decrease your chances of acceptance to an MD-PhD program. You must provide evidence to justify your suitability for both research and medicine and that you have taken the necessary steps to test drive your future career.

Remember to emphasize quality over quantity – you do not need to have an extensive clinical background to impress the adcoms. Choose to volunteer or work with organizations and institutions that would further inform your decision to apply to MD-PhD programs. Patient care is at the heart of the medical profession, so it is vital for MD-PhD applicants to get exposed to patients, who are after all the greatest inspiration for medical research and progress. Apply to work and volunteer in clinics, hospitals, and hospices. Apply to volunteer in long-term care and retirement homes. Gain clinical experience by working as a health professional’s assistant, become a certified nursing assistant (CNA), or a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT), a medical scribe, or a personal caretaker.

Shadowing a physician can also greatly inform your knowledge of clinical practice. As a passive observer, you will get to see the everyday responsibilities of a practicing physician. Take note of memorable lessons you learn – they may prove to be invaluable sources for your MD-PhD essays. Make sure you know how many shadowing hours are required for medical school to fulfill the requirement and how to ask to shadow a doctor . Remember, committing to a clinical setting or shadowing a physician will provide you with an opportunity to reflect on how research can improve medical practice. Without clinical background, your perception of the medical field and medical research will not be complete.

MD PhD Program Statistics

Average mean statistics for MD-PhD matriculants in the US:

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Residency Options

You might be wondering what kind of residency options MD-PhD graduates have after so many years of rigorous training. Just like the rest of applicants, you will need to use the ERAS application to apply to American residency programs and CaRMS to apply to programs in Canada.

First of all, you must know that as an MD-PhD graduate you will need to do a bit more research into residency programs than regular MDs. This is because not all residency programs focus on the research side of medical training. If you want to further your scientific as well as your clinical education, you will have to do a little more work to figure out which residencies will allow you to do so.

Start by speaking with your program mentors who can suggest residencies they know to be particularly research-friendly. You can check programs' research track records to see if they value research and what kind of opportunities there are to shorten the residency for research-track trainees, such as the Accelerated Research Pathway (ARP), Integrated Research Pathway (IRP), and other physician-scientist track programs.

Look for residencies that have been specifically developed to foster the training of physician-scientists by fully integrating research into the clinical training. These programs usually offer shortened residency (specialty) training by allowing students to shorten their training by 1 year, depending on the specialty. Make sure that the residency offers their trainees to start research right at the beginning of the program, rather than choosing a full-time lab later in the process. Find out if there is any special financial support for graduates of the combined programs.

To learn more about opportunities for physician-scientists, check out the American Physician Scientist Association list of residencies. Be aware, that if you decide to pursue clinical practice rather than research after your graduate from MD-PhD, you can still pursue residency in any specialty you choose.

1. Gain extensive research experience.

Admissions into MD-PhD programs are highly competitive, and your research experience is essential to your success in gaining entry into the program. You must be able to demonstrate a longstanding commitment to research. Be sure to start gaining experience as soon as possible and try to diversify that experience. For example, you could work in a medical laboratory, research hospital and for a pharmaceutical company. While it is a start to work as a lab tech, the majority of your experience should be focused on hypothesis-based research. The admissions committee will be interested in your ability and experience in developing a hypothesis into a research problem, testing that hypothesis by conducting research and generating a report to document your findings. Try to tailor your research experiences to the field in which you want to pursue, experiences in the biomedical sciences are very useful but not necessarily required if you'll be studying in fields outside of the laboratory.

2. Contribute to publications.

Try to publish your research findings or contribute to publications to help demonstrate the active role you played in conducting research. This can be a great way to give you a competitive edge as not all candidates have been published or have contributed to publications. If you have been published or contributed to a publication, even if you only played a small role, be sure you are very familiar with the paper and major details surrounding the research. During your interview, the admissions committee will ask you questions about the research you participated in and will want to see your thorough understanding of that research. In a previous blog, we discuss some of the hardest grad school interview questions and answers, as well as common medical school interview questions be sure you review these to help you prepare for your interview.

3. Develop good relationships with your research mentor.

It is very important to develop good relationships with your research mentors straight away. When you apply to MD-PhD programs, you'll have to provide letters of recommendation and the best recommendations will come from a mentor who has spent a long time with you, has been able to directly assess your research skills and has a strong relationship with you.

4. Gain shadowing experience.

Gaining shadowing experience is important for students applying to an MD program so it's no different for those interested in MD-PhD programs. Remember, you are not only demonstrating your passion for research, you should also be interested in becoming a clinical doctor. Shadowing is a great way to learn quickly in a medical environment and gives you excellent experiences that can be discussed in your application or during your interviews.

5. Volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities.

Community projects and extracurriculars for medical school are a great way to demonstrate a variety of skills desired by the admissions committee such as leadership, teamwork, commitment and problem-solving. Whether you are a tutor, a teaching assistant, or are even part of a debate club, your experiences and what you gained or learned from them are essential. Check out our blog on volunteering to find out how many volunteer hours for medical school you need, as well as the best type of volunteer activity to make your application stand out.

While research is going to be the major focus of the MD-PhD, you must still have sufficient clinical and shadowing experience to assure that medicine is also a desired component of your career. If you do not have clinical and patient experience, the admissions committee will question why you’re applying to the combined program, rather than simply a PhD.

Most applicants do not have master’s degrees. However, some students pursue graduate education to bolster their MD-PhD applications. For example, some students choose to complete special master’s programs to gain valuable research experience.

There is a possibility that your school of choice will forgive a lower GPA if the MCAT score is high. Likewise, if an MCAT score is lower than the school’s typical average, the GPA may compensate for it. However, due to their highly selective process, MD-PhD programs take only the best. Try to ensure that your GPA and MCAT score meet the averages of the schools to which you’re applying. Remember, your GPA and MCAT are not the only components of your MD-PhD application but they are often used to weed out students from the application pool.

While most programs require only the MCAT, some programs may ask you to submit GRE scores as well. Check with your program to make sure.

A good research experience provides you with the opportunity to conduct hypothesis-driven research. You get the chance to develop this hypothesis into a research problem, conduct research to test the hypothesis, and then report the outcome and significance of this research. You do not need to have research experience in the medical field to qualify for MD-PhD. Many research skills are transferable across disciplines. As long as you learn valuable research skills and understand the process, your research experience can come from any field you like.

The quality of your research experience is more important than its amount. Your application can be strong if you convey genuine interest and experience in only one research project. Your progress and commitment to a specific research area demonstrates expertise and dedication. It is not necessary to be involved in dozens of research projects or make any ground-breaking scientific discoveries to enter the MD-PhD program. In your application, focus on what you have learned and accomplished and don't be afraid to discuss your setbacks in addition to your accomplishments.

If you have publications, make sure to include them in your application. Having published research can give you a competitive edge as not every applicant will have this experience. Keep in mind that you must have an in-depth understanding of this research because you will be asked about it during your interviews. However, for the most part publications are not necessary. Many students apply directly out of undergrad and admissions committees understand that it is difficult to contribute to publication at such an early stage in your education.

Early applications are highly encouraged since most programs have rolling admissions. Most MD-PhD programs are affiliated with the AMCAS where you apply through a primary application and then complete a MD-PhD program-specific secondary application. The AMCAS application site opens in early June; most programs suggest that your application be submitted and completed before September.

Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) is an MD-PhD program that has been awarded a training grant (T32) from the National Institute of General Medical Science that financially supports trainees in the program. There are currently about 49 MD-PhD programs that have T32 awards. Non-MSTP MD-PhD programs also provide environments where students obtain outstanding dual-degree training.

Each institution has a financial package. Most programs offer a monthly stipend and a full tuition scholarship for the length of the program. Check with your program of choice.

It takes 7 to 8 years. You must complete both MD and PhD degree requirements to graduate. Typically, you start the program by mastering basic science courses as an MD student for 1 or 2 years, followed by an intense period of PhD research for 3 or 4 years. During the PhD period, you must complete your research, thesis writing, and defend your work. The last 2 years are dedicated to clinical training.

These programs aim to train physician-scientists, but other research-oriented career paths are also possible. Graduates of MD-PhD programs often go on to become faculty members at medical schools, universities, and research institutes such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Ideally, at least one of your writers will be the head of a research project in which you participated. It is important to have a person who can speak to your research skills and progress. Other writers can include professors and instructors, volunteer and work supervisors, athletics coaches, or a physician you worked with or whom you shadowed.

It is completely normal to change direction in your research throughout your studies. Many students change their research fields after they gain more research experience. Rather than setting in stone what you are going to study, your application is meant to demonstrate the quality of your experiences and whether you are ready for the rigors of MD-PhD training.

It is certainly possible to become a physician-scientist without obtaining an MD-PhD degree. However, if you are lucky enough to know that you want a career based in medicine and research, the joint program is the most effective way to become a physician-scientist. You can complete an MD first and obtain a PhD afterward, or you could complete a PhD first and obtain your MD afterward, however, the disadvantage is that this route takes much longer. Some schools will let you transfer into their MD-PhD program if you've completed a year or two in a medical or graduate school program at their school. If you are a few years into a medical or graduate school program at a different school however, most schools will not accept your transfer, although it can happen on rare occasions.

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md phd research essay

Applying to MD-PhD Programs

New section.

Are you considering a MD-PhD program? Here the basics about applying to MD-PhD programs to help you get started.

The MD-PhD dual degree training prepares you for a career that is busy, challenging, and rewarding, and offers opportunities to do good for many people by advancing medical science, developing new diagnostics and treatments for diseases, and pushing back the boundaries of the unknown.

How do I know if a combined program is right for me?

MD-PhD programs are specifically designed for those who want to become physician-researchers, also known as physician-scientists. Graduates of MD-PhD programs often go on to become faculty members at medical schools, universities, and research institutes such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

MD-PhD program students are being prepared for careers in which they will spend most of their time doing research in addition to caring for patients. It is critical that applicants have a passion for doing both—most MD-PhD graduates feel strongly that they would not be fulfilled by only pursuing medicine or science.

How do I apply?

Nearly all MD-PhD programs participate in the application process via the American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®) . On the AMCAS application, students designate themselves as MD-PhD applicants and complete two additional essays: one related to why they are interested in MD-PhD training, and the other highlighting their significant research experiences.

What schools offer this type of program?

Nationwide, there are more than 90 MD-PhD programs affiliated with medical schools. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) supports Medical Scientist Training Programs or MSTPs. They currently provide training grants that partially support MD-PhD programs at 49 degree-granting institutions. You can see which schools offer MD-PhD degrees in the  Medical School Admission Requirements  profiles under “Combined Degrees and Special Programs.” You can also review  Individual MD-PhD Program Information for Prospective Applicants  for easy access to individual MD-PhD program websites.

How long does it take?

Students enter an integrated curriculum that typically takes seven to eight years to complete. During which time, they satisfy the full requirements for both the MD and the PhD degrees.

What kind of work can I do? How much time is spent as an MD? As a researcher?

According to a  study of MD-PhD program outcomes , nearly 80 percent of graduates are following career paths consistent with the goals of their training, including working as full-time faculty in academic medical centers or for the NIH, research institutes, industry, and federal agencies. Those in academia, spend between 50 and 80 percent of their time conducting research, though this can vary by specialty. Their research may be lab-based, translational, or clinical. The remaining time is often divided between clinical service, teaching, and administrative activities.

MD-PhD Application Timeline

AMCAS application opens:  May preceding the year of expected entry Applicants interviewed:  October–March Final decisions sent to applicants:  December–March Applicants revisit program(s) to decide where to matriculate:  March–April MD-PhD programs start:  June–August

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Everything You Need to Know About MD-PhD Programs

md phd research essay

Posted in: Applying to Medical School

md phd research essay

Table of Contents

MD-PhD programs are dual-degree programs for pre-medical students who want to both practice medicine and conduct extensive research.

In an MD-PhD program, the medical education of the MD program is combined with the in-depth research training of a PhD program. Students learn to practice medicine, diagnosing and treating patients all while gaining research experience to investigate medical conditions and diseases.

These programs are more intense than standard medical school. Students take additional coursework, typically in the biomedical sciences, graduate training, rotations in different laboratories, and intensive research.

The extra education gives students the tools to advance in the medical field after graduation. If you are interested in investigating diseases as you treat patients and developing innovative ways to provide care, an MD-PhD path may be for you!

What are MD-PhD programs?

MD-PhD programs are unique dual-degree programs designed for students who have an interest in both patient care and research. In these programs, students complete both a medical degree (MD) and a doctorate (PhD). This prepares graduates to function as physician-scientists, seamlessly bridging the gap between the laboratory and the clinical setting.

What is the difference between an MD and an MD-PhD? The difference between MD and MD-PhD graduates is that while both degrees are conferred to medical doctors, MD programs focus on clinical practice. MD-PhD programs, on the other hand, combine medical education with extensive biomedical research training. 

Is MD-PhD easier than MD? MD-PhD programs are not easier than MD programs. They require a longer time commitment, but in the end, provide graduates with a broader skill set to pursue careers that integrate medicine and scientific research.

How rare is an MD-PhD? Only about 3% of students that enroll in medical school are in MD-PhD programs. There are 122 MD-PhD programs in the U.S. and 13 in Canada listed on the AAMC MD-PhD Degree Programs by State directory .

Graduate programs aren’t confined to a specific area of study. Each school with this type of program has its own options for its PhD degree. PhD students commonly choose to specialize in topics such as:

  • Cell biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Neuroscience
  • Biomedical engineering

Upon completion of an MD-PhD program, graduates are awarded the dual degree for their proficiency in both clinical practice and research. 

MD-PhD Program Duration

A significant commitment of time is necessary to complete an MD-PhD program, but the career path is rewarding and well-compensated. 

How many years are MD-PhD programs ? Students can expect to spend 7-8 years total between graduate school and med school, but there is no strict timeline for completing an MD-PhD. Some students complete their programs in as little as six years, and others take as long as 10.

Students usually start with the first year to two years of medical school, followed by 3-5 years of research, then finish with another two years of medical training and clinicals. Current students entering into MD-PhD programs are older , on average, than when these programs first began, and many take longer to complete their studies.

How much does an MD-PhD program cost?

Most MD-PhD programs offer enrolled students tuition-free training and a stipend to cover living expenses.

The cost of an MD-PhD program varies widely depending on the institution, but the stipend and tuition-free training makes many of these programs significantly less burdensome financially compared to standalone MD or PhD programs.

Financial support is available through the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Scholarships are offered that cover tuition and provide a stipend for living expenses, making these intensive dual degree programs more attainable.

Not all MD-PhD programs are funded by the MSTP, but some schools offer similar financial support to their MD-PhD students. For any school you plan to apply to, double-check their program website or call an admissions counselor to see if there are options for financial aid. 

MD-PhD Residencies

MD-PhD residencies provide a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between patient care and research. Graduates often enter residency programs to acquire hands-on training in a particular medical specialty. Some even opt for a fellowship in a subspecialty after that. This training phase can range from 3 -7 years, depending on the specialty.

Although they can enter any medical specialty, they frequently gravitate towards specialties with a strong research component. Here are a few common residencies that MD-PhDs typically enter:

  • Internal Medicine: This field covers a broad range of diseases in adults and often involves solving complex medical problems. It’s a popular choice for MD-PhD graduates because of the diversity of patients and conditions, which provides many opportunities for research.
  • Neurology: The complexity and the largely untapped understanding of the nervous system provide abundant research opportunities. Advances in neuroimaging, AI , and genetics also offer tools for physician-scientists to explore the nervous system in unprecedented ways.
  • Psychiatry: Studying the pathophysiology of mental disorders, exploring new therapeutic interventions, and examining the genetic basis of psychiatric conditions are just a sample of the ways an MD-PhD can continue research in this specialty.
  • Pathology: Pathologists often work behind the scenes in medicine, studying the causes and effects of diseases. This field is deeply rooted in medical research, which makes it a good fit for many MD-PhD graduates.
  • Pediatrics : Pediatric physician-scientists research a wide array of topics, including childhood diseases, growth and development, pediatric therapies, and many other areas related to child health.

The choice of residency program should align with each graduate’s clinical interests, research interests, and career goals. There is great flexibility in the MD-PhD pathway, and physician-scientists span all specialties in medicine.

MD-PhD Career Path & Salary

Careers for MD-PhD’s often sit at the intersection of healthcare, academic medicine, and industry. Roles vary from practicing physicians, medical researchers, educators, and policy advisors to leaders in biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

After completing their residency, MD-PhDs typically divide their professional time between research and clinical practice. They often work in academic medical centers or research institutions where they can see patients and conduct research. Their research may be basic, translational, or clinical, depending on their interests and training.

MD-PhDs may also grow to take on teaching roles, educating the next generation of physicians and scientists. This path can bring them to leadership roles such as department chair, dean of a medical college, or even hospital CEO with their unique understanding of both medicine and research.

The salary for MD-PhDs does vary depending on the chosen career path. Earning potential is generally high due to the advanced and specialized nature of their training.

On average, physician-scientists in the US earn a median salary that is well above the national average for all occupations. According to Doximity’s 2023 Physician’s Compensation Report , the average salary for physicians in the Pharmaceutical/Industry employment setting is highest at $392,534.

Those working in academia or research may have different salary scales. These salaries are frequently dependent on research grants, but still typically fall within a comfortable range.

An MD-PhD opens up a wide range of career options, particularly in the intersecting areas of healthcare and research. Below are careers someone with an MD-PhD might pursue:

  • Academic Physician: They divide their time between seeing patients, conducting research, and teaching students and residents. These professionals usually work at medical schools or teaching hospitals.
  • Biomedical Researcher: MD-PhDs often find employment as researchers in the field of biomedical sciences. They can work in research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, or government organizations such as the NIH.
  • Clinical Investigator: These are physicians who conduct research involving human subjects (clinical trials). They develop and implement studies to understand the effects of new drugs or therapeutic strategies.
  • Pharmaceutical/Biotech Industry Professional : Many MD-PhDs work in the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industry. They may be involved in drug development, clinical trials, regulatory affairs, or medical affairs.
  • Medical Director: In this role, an individual would oversee the medical aspect of a healthcare facility, biotech company, or department in a hospital. This position often requires both a medical and research background.
  • Science Policy Analyst/Advisor: They can work in government or nonprofit organizations, helping to shape policies that affect scientific research and healthcare.
  • Public Health Official: Some MD-PhDs choose to work in the public sector, addressing health issues at the population level. They may work for entities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Medical Science Liaison: This role often involves serving as a bridge between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals, explaining new therapies and scientific findings to physicians, researchers, and other stakeholders.
  • Medical Educator: MD-PhDs are uniquely qualified to educate future doctors and researchers, teaching in areas such as pharmacology, pathology, genetics, or any other medical specialty. They may design and implement courses, advise students, and contribute to the educational mission of their institution.

These are just a few of the potential career paths. A career choice often depends on an individual’s specific interests, such as which medical specialties they are drawn to, whether they prefer working with patients or in a laboratory, and how they want to contribute to advancing medical science.

Medical Science Training Programs

Some MD-PhD programs in the United States are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). This means that students receive full tuition remission, health insurance, and a living stipend throughout their training.

Because of this financial support, admission to an MSTP is very competitive. Many schools have financial support available to MD-PhD students even if they are not part of the Medical Scientist Training Program to allow them to focus on their studies and research.

Be better prepared for your MCAT with a free practice exam.

4 Benefits of Becoming an MD-PhD

Earning dual degrees in medicine and research is an ambitious endeavor, but the impacts you can make on patient care and scientific research are significant and valuable to public health. An MD-PhD degree comes with some great benefits.

1. Interdisciplinary Perspective

The duality of the MD-PhD training allows graduates the ability to translate clinical observations into research questions, then taking research findings to enhance patient care. You will essentially be a bridge to the gap between the laboratory and the clinic.

2. Career Flexibility

Graduates can become practicing physicians, medical researchers, educators, and/or policy advisors. They may also take on leadership roles within academic institutions, hospitals, biotech companies, or pharmaceutical firms. 

The wide range of possible careers allows the flexibility to pursue a path that aligns with your passion.

3. Influential Impact 

The rigorous training in MD-PhD programs allows graduates to drive innovation in healthcare and medical science. This advanced education will have you asking critical questions and finding answers that can change the course of medical treatment and patient care. 

The potential to make significant contributions to the field of medicine is a rewarding and prestigious aspect of this career path.

4. Community and Mentorship

During their training, MD-PhD students join a tight-knit community of fellow dual-degree students, mentors, and faculty. This network can provide valuable support, guidance, and camaraderie during the demanding years of study. 

Post-graduation, this network continues to serve as a resource for collaboration, mentorship, and career advancement.

Are MD-PhD programs more competitive than MD programs?

In general, yes, MD-PhD programs are more competitive than MD programs. 

The statistics here can be a little confusing, though. 10% of applicants are accepted to an MD-PhD program, which is higher than the 3% that get accepted into MD programs. Acceptance rates are nearly the same as traditional medical programs, too.

But the quality of application for MD-PhD programs is inherently higher than traditional pre-meds. Your GPA and MCAT need to be higher, with well-developed extracurricular experiences and glowing letters of recommendation to have a chance at an MD-PhD program. 

Learn more about how we can help you boost your MCAT score.

Preparing to Apply to MD-PhD Programs

Applying for an MD-PhD program is done through AMCAS, just like MD programs. Preparation is key in the application process .

Being proactive, getting relevant experiences, understanding the requirements, and applying to multiple programs will significantly enhance your chances of success in securing a spot in an MD-PhD program. Applicants must be prepared to showcase themselves as doctor material and make a case for their desire to take part in research.

Here are a few tips for increasing your chances at acceptance.

Make sure you have the right extracurriculars under your belt.

Gaining relevant experiences beyond the classroom is crucial to showcase your commitment to a career in medical research. Admissions committees are looking for candidates with experience in research projects. 

It is absolutely necessary to have taken part in research to have a chance at getting into an MD-PhD program.

Check application requirements well in advance.

You’ll be required to meet all the AMCAS application requirements of MD programs. This includes the prerequisite coursework, your MCAT score and GPA, letters of evaluation, and personal statement . 

There are also two additional essays that are required on MD-PhD applications, which we’ll cover later.

We advise checking with each specific medical school on the requirements for their applications . Non-medical graduate programs may ask for your GRE scores. You want to make sure you’ve taken this test well in advance of the AMCAS open date. 

Our advisors can help you craft a personal statement for your MD-PhD that will stand out.

Apply to several programs.

Because of the limited number of programs and the competitive nature of MD-PhD programs, you should apply to multiple programs. Students who have gotten into these programs report applying to as many as 30 programs for the best chance to be accepted. 

Along with MD-PhD programs, we also recommend applying to some MD programs as well. On your AMCAS application, you can easily designate as an MD candidate or MD-PhD candidate.

Even if you don’t make it into the MD-PhD program of a medical school, you will still have the opportunity to be considered for their MD program.

MD-PhD Application Timeline

Get your medical school application in early — the same goes for MD-PhD applications. In fact, it’s even more important to have your primary application in as soon as possible to give yourself plenty of time to write your secondary essays. 

The MD-PhD application process follows the AMCAS application timeline :

  • May: AMCAS application opens. You’ll receive your secondary application shortly after you submit your primary. 
  • July-August: Submit your supplemental application within two weeks.
  • October-March: Prepare for and attend all scheduled interviews.
  • December-March: Application committees make final decisions. For schools with rolling admissions, this may happen shortly after an interview. Other institutions wait until after all interviews are complete to make decisions.
  • March-April: Applicant decisions are made.
  • June-August: Your MD-PhD begins.

Additional Essays in the MD-PhD Application

The MD-PhD application process includes two additional essays that showcase your commitment to a career as a physician-scientist. 

MD-PhD Essay

The MD-PhD Essay is your opportunity to express why you have chosen the dual-degree path and how it aligns with your career goals. Discuss your motivation for pursuing the ambitious MD-PhD degree. You should explain why both clinical practice and research are integral to your career vision and share personal experiences that ignite your interest in this path.

Describe your career goals and how integrating clinical practice and scientific research will allow you to achieve those goals. If you’re interested in a particular field, discuss how the blend of clinical and research training in the MD-PhD program will enhance your contributions to this field.

Significant Research Experience Essay

This essay is your chance to elaborate on your research experiences and demonstrate your scientific curiosity, perseverance, and ability to work independently. You’ll explain the objectives of the research project you have been involved in, your role in achieving these objectives, and the significance of the research.

You can also write about instances where you faced challenges and had to use your problem-solving skills, perseverance, and critical thinking to overcome them. Highlight your ability to learn from others, like your mentors, how you can collaborate, and contribute to a team-oriented goal.

If your work led to any significant findings, presentations, or publications, be sure to include this. Use this opportunity to communicate your passion for research and how these experiences have prepared you for a career that combines patient care and scientific investigation.

MD-PhD: The career path that moves medicine forward.

MD-PhD candidates have a commitment to both medical practice and research on this path. The journey is long and at times challenging, but for those driven by a passion for both clinical medicine and biomedical research, the reward lies in the unique ability to contribute to the advancement of healthcare as a physician-scientist.

Speak with a member of our enrollment team who can help you prepare your MD-PhD application.

Kachiu Lee, MD

Kachiu Lee, MD

Dr. Lee specializes in BS/MD admissions. She was accepted into seven combined bachelor-medical degree programs. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Northwestern University and proceeded to Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL. After completing a dermatology residency at Brown University, Dr. Lee pursued a fellowship in Photomedicine, Lasers, and Cosmetics at Massachusetts General Hospital and was a Clinical Fellow at Harvard Medical School. Academically, she has over 100 peer-reviewed publications and lectures internationally.

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  • © 2021

The Complete MD/PhD Applicant Guide

How to Become a Double Doctor

  • Jonathan Sussman 0 ,
  • Jordan Setayesh 1 ,
  • Amitej Venapally 2

Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

University of Michigan Medical School, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA

Emory school of medicine, emory university, atlanta, usa.

Explains the MD/PhD application process from the perspective of recent applicants who share their anecdotal experiences

Contains a collection of example essays

Delineates the important differences between an MD and MD/PhD application

Provides helpful suggestions and resources for every step of the application process

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  • Table of contents

About this book

Authors and affiliations, about the authors, bibliographic information.

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Table of contents (15 chapters)

Front matter, what is an md/phd.

  • Jonathan Sussman, Jordan Setayesh, Amitej Venapally

What Do MD/PhDs Do and Who Should Become One?

Prerequisite requirements, the md/phd application basics and timeline, researching schools: where to apply, the personal comments essay, the md/phd essay, the significant research experience essay, the work and activities section, secondary applications and the casper test, interview invitations: what to expect, interview types: preparation and strategy, the waiting game: it’s not over yet, acceptances, second looks, and matriculation, additional resources, back matter.

  • Application process

Jonathan Sussman

Jordan Setayesh

Amitej Venapally

Jonathan Sussman graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) in 2019 with dual degrees in Biomedical Engineering and Music Performance. He has conducted Systems Cancer Biology research at USC as an undergraduate researcher and Molecular Biology research at The Scripps Research Institute as a research assistant and is now pursuing an MD/PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology with an emphasis in Cancer Biology.

Jordan Setayesh graduated from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) in 2018 with a degree in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. He conducted developmental biology research as an undergraduate researcher at Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine from 2016-2020. He is now pursuing an MD/PhD degree at the University of Michigan Medical School and Rackham Graduate School.

 Amitej Venapally graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2020 with dual degrees in Biochemistry and Computer Science. He has conducted RNA biology and origin of life research at Georgia Tech as an undergraduate researcher. He is now pursuing an MD/PhD degree at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Book Title : The Complete MD/PhD Applicant Guide

Book Subtitle : How to Become a Double Doctor

Authors : Jonathan Sussman, Jordan Setayesh, Amitej Venapally


Publisher : Springer Cham

eBook Packages : Medicine , Medicine (R0)

Copyright Information : The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021

Softcover ISBN : 978-3-030-55624-2 Published: 23 September 2020

eBook ISBN : 978-3-030-55625-9 Published: 22 September 2020

Edition Number : 1

Number of Pages : XXV, 189

Number of Illustrations : 1 b/w illustrations, 6 illustrations in colour

Topics : Medicine/Public Health, general , Medical Education

Policies and ethics

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The personal statement consists of 5,300 characters or less (including spaces) and gives you the opportunity to explain  why you have pursued the experiences you have, and what they have taught you about your interest and values in medicine. 


  • DO recognize that you won't be able to, nor should you, discuss a significant portion of the ways you have explored medicine. This is already shown in other parts of your application.  
  • DON'T merely summarize your resume or your work and activities section. This is your opportunity to share your why, not rehash what you have done.  
  • DO be wary about relying heavily on childhood or personal experiences with medicine. Admissions committees are interested in your mature reflections and motivations.  
  • DON'T read examples online. Relying on examples from other applicants can hinder more than help, particularly in this step where authenticity is most important.  
  • DO work with your CIH adviser early and often throughout your brainstorming, drafting, and writing process. Get your own thoughts down on paper, and work with us to craft an essay that is effective, professional, and truly personal. 


MD/PhD applicants are required to submit two additional essays: 

  • MD/PhD essay: Why do you want to be a physician scientist? How do you imagine your clinical career informing and enriching your research and your research shaping how your care for patients?   
  • Significant Research Experiences: An essay outlining your research experiences, describing what you did, how it contributed to the lab and the field more broadly, and what it taught you about your research interests going forward.  


Personal Statement Lab : A three-week interactive series that walks applicants from brainstorming to a personal statement draft. Each week, participants will work together to brainstorm ideas, narrow down their theme or narrative, and write a first draft for review. Held in February and March each year. 

Personal Statement Review appointments are available with your CIH adviser February through May each year. 


Personal Statement 101  

AAMC’s Advisor Corner: Crafting Your Personal Statement

Schedule an Appointment with a Healthcare Adviser

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  • 20 March 2024

Is AI ready to mass-produce lay summaries of research articles?

  • Kamal Nahas 0

Kamal Nahas is a freelance science journalist based in Oxford, UK

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AI chatbot use showing a tablet screen with language bubbles on top of it.

Generative AI might be a powerful tool in making research more accessible for scientists and the broader public alike. Credit: Getty

Thinking back to the early days of her PhD programme, Esther Osarfo-Mensah recalls struggling to keep up with the literature. “Sometimes, the wording or the way the information is presented actually makes it quite a task to get through a paper,” says the biophysicist at University College London. Lay summaries could be a time-saving solution. Short synopses of research articles written in plain language could help readers to decide which papers to focus on — but they aren’t common in scientific publishing. Now, the buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) has pushed software engineers to develop platforms that can mass produce these synopses.

Scientists are drawn to AI tools because they excel at crafting text in accessible language, and they might even produce clearer lay summaries than those written by people. A study 1 released last year looked at lay summaries published in one journal and found that those created by people were less readable than were the original abstracts — potentially because some researchers struggle to replace jargon with plain language or to decide which facts to include when condensing the information into a few lines.

AI lay-summary platforms come in a variety of forms (see ‘AI lay-summary tools’). Some allow researchers to import a paper and generate a summary; others are built into web servers, such as the bioRxiv preprint database.

AI lay-summary tools

Several AI resources have been developed to help readers glean information about research articles quickly. They offer different perks. Here are a few examples and how they work:

- SciSummary: This tool parses the sections of a paper to extract the key points and then runs those through the general-purpose large language model GPT-3.5 to transform them into a short summary written in plain language. Max Heckel, the tool’s founder, says it incorporates multimedia into the summary, too: “If it determines that a particular section of the summary is relevant to a figure or table, it will actually show that table or figure in line.”

- Scholarcy: This technology takes a different approach. Its founder, Phil Gooch, based in London, says the tool was trained on 25,000 papers to identify sentences containing verb phrases such as “has been shown to” that often carry key information about the study. It then uses a mixture of custom and open-source large language models to paraphrase those sentences in plain text. “You can actually create ten different types of summaries,” he adds, including one that lays out how the paper is related to previous publications.

- SciSpace: This tool was trained on a repository of more than 280 million data sets, including papers that people had manually annotated, to extract key information from articles. It uses a mixture of proprietary fine-tuned models and GPT-3.5 to craft the summary, says the company’s chief executive, Saikiran Chandha, based in San Francisco, California. “A user can ask questions on top of these summaries to further dig into the paper,” he notes, adding that the company plans to develop audio summaries that people can tune into on the go.

Benefits and drawbacks

Mass-produced lay summaries could yield a trove of benefits. Beyond helping scientists to speed-read the literature, the synopses can be disseminated to people with different levels of expertise, including members of the public. Osarfo-Mensah adds that AI summaries might also aid people who struggle with English. “Some people hide behind jargon because they don’t necessarily feel comfortable trying to explain it,” she says, but AI could help them to rework technical phrases. Max Heckel is the founder of SciSummary, a company in Columbus, Ohio, that offers a tool that allows users to import a paper to be summarized. The tool can also translate summaries into other languages, and is gaining popularity in Indonesia and Turkey, he says, arguing that it could topple language barriers and make science more accessible.

Despite these strides, some scientists feel that improvements are needed before we can rely on AI to describe studies accurately.

Will Ratcliff, an evolutionary biologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, argues that no tool can produce better text than can professional writers. Although researchers have different writing abilities, he invariably prefers reading scientific material produced by study authors over those generated by AI. “I like to see what the authors wrote. They put craft into it, and I find their abstract to be more informative,” he says.

md phd research essay

Is ChatGPT making scientists hyper-productive? The highs and lows of using AI

Nana Mensah, a PhD student in computational biology at the Francis Crick Institute in London, adds that, unlike AI, people tend to craft a narrative when writing lay summaries, helping readers to understand the motivations behind each step of the study. He says, however, that one advantage of AI platforms is that they can write summaries at different reading levels, potentially broadening the audience. In his experience, however, these synopses might still include jargon that can confuse readers without specialist knowledge.

AI tools might even struggle to turn technical language into lay versions at all. Osarfo-Mensah works in biophysics, a field with many intricate parameters and equations. She found that an AI summary of one of her research articles excluded information from a whole section. If researchers were looking for a paper with those details and consulted the AI summary, they might abandon her paper and look for other work.

Andy Shepherd, scientific director at global technology company Envision Pharma Group in Horsham, UK, has in his spare time compared the performances of several AI tools to see how often they introduce blunders. He used eight text generators, including general ones and some that had been optimized to produce lay summaries. He then asked people with different backgrounds, such as health-care professionals and the public, to assess how clear, readable and useful lay summaries were for two papers.

“All of the platforms produced something that was coherent and read like a reasonable study, but a few of them introduced errors, and two of them actively reversed the conclusion of the paper,” he says. It’s easy for AI tools to make this mistake by, for instance, omitting the word ‘not’ in a sentence, he explains. Ratcliff cautions that AI summaries should be viewed as a tool’s “best guess” of what a paper is about, stressing that it can’t check facts.

Broader readership

The risk of AI summaries introducing errors is one concern among many. Another is that one benefit of such summaries — that they can help to share research more widely among the public — could also have drawbacks. The AI summaries posted alongside bioRxiv preprints, research articles that have yet to undergo peer review, are tailored to different levels of reader expertise, including that of the public. Osarfo-Mensah supports the effort to widen the reach of these works. “The public should feel more involved in science and feel like they have a stake in it, because at the end of the day, science isn’t done in a vacuum,” she says.

But others point out that this comes with the risk of making unreviewed and inaccurate research more accessible. Mensah says that academics “will be able to treat the article with the sort of caution that’s required”, but he isn’t sure that members of the public will always understand when a summary refers to unreviewed work. Lay summaries of preprints should come with a “hazard warning” informing the reader upfront that the material has yet to be reviewed, says Shepherd.

Why scientists trust AI too much — and what to do about it

“We agree entirely that preprints must be understood as not peer-reviewed when posted,” says John Inglis, co-founder of bioRxiv, who is based at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. He notes that such a disclaimer can be found on the homepage of each preprint, and if a member of the public navigates to a preprint through a web search, they are first directed to the homepage displaying this disclaimer before they can access the summary. But the warning labels are not integrated into the summaries, so there is a risk that these could be shared on social media without the disclaimer. Inglis says bioRxiv is working with its partner ScienceCast, whose technology produces the synopses, on adding a note to each summary to negate this risk.

As is the case for many other nascent generative-AI technologies, humans are still working out the messaging that might be needed to ensure users are given adequate context. But if AI lay-summary tools can successfully mitigate these and other challenges, they might become a staple of scientific publishing.


Wen, J. & Yi, L. Scientometrics 128 , 5791–5800 (2023).

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Being a parent is a hidden scientific superpower — here’s why

Career Column 13 MAR 24

Postdoctoral Associate

Our laboratory at the Washington University in St. Louis is seeking a postdoctoral experimental biologist to study urogenital diseases and cancer.

Saint Louis, Missouri

Washington University School of Medicine Department of Medicine

Recruitment of Global Talent at the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (IOZ, CAS)

The Institute of Zoology (IOZ), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), is seeking global talents around the world.

Beijing, China

Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (IOZ, CAS)

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Postdoctoral Fellow-Proteomics/Mass Spectrometry

Location: Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, LA, USA Department: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Tulane University School of Med...

New Orleans, Louisiana

Tulane University School of Medicine (SOM)

md phd research essay

Open Faculty Position in Mathematical and Information Security

We are now seeking outstanding candidates in all areas of mathematics and information security.

Dongguan, Guangdong, China

GREAT BAY INSTITUTE FOR ADVANCED STUDY: Institute of Mathematical and Information Security

Faculty Positions in Bioscience and Biomedical Engineering (BSBE) Thrust, Systems Hub, HKUST (GZ)

Tenure-track and tenured faculty positions at all ranks (Assistant Professor/Associate Professor/Professor)

The university is situated in the heart of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area, a highly active and vibrant region in the world.

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Guangzhou)

md phd research essay

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Physics Ph.D. candidate wins 2024 Three Minute Thesis competition

By | Katya Hrichak , Cornell University Graduate School

“I want you to remember a time when you were in a setting where you felt like you didn’t belong. I want you to remember how you felt in that setting, maybe isolated or out of place, and how much you felt like you wanted to continue going back to that setting—probably not much. These feelings are all too familiar for undergraduate women pursuing their studies in science, and in physics specifically,” began Meagan Sundstrom, a doctoral candidate in physics at the ninth annual Cornell University Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

Alongside seven other finalists, Sundstrom presented her dissertation research in just three minutes on March 20 to a panel of judges and an audience from across campus while additional friends, family, advisors, and lab mates watched online. In the first in-person Cornell 3MT since 2019, presentations were judged by how clearly and compellingly students summarized their research to a general audience, using only one static slide.

Sundstrom’s presentation, “Recognizing and Removing Barriers for Women in Physics,” earned her first place and $1,500. Second place and $1,000 was awarded to information science doctoral student Sterling Williams-Ceci for her presentation, “AI Helps us Write – but at What Cost?”

After nearly 60 in-person and 70 virtual audience members cast their ballots, votes were tallied and the People’s Choice Award and $250 were presented to biomedical and biological sciences doctoral candidate Sharada Gopal for her presentation, “Worming Our Way to a Longer Life.”

This year’s judges included Jane Bunker, director of Cornell University Press; Joe Ellis, director of online degree program development at eCornell; David Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability; and Bob Riter, patient advocate for the Cornell Community Cancer Partnership. Organization of the competition and coaching of presenters was provided by the Graduate School Office of Career and Professional Development.

“As grad students, there are a lot of opportunities to give your elevator pitch at conferences and more professional settings to more senior people in your field, and I thought this would be a really cool opportunity for me to try to tailor that pitch to a more general audience—how would I describe my research to my family and friends?—so that was fun,” said Sundstrom.

Being able to “zoom out” and view her topic from a different perspective was also helpful for Sundstrom, who is currently writing her dissertation and appreciates having both formulated a storyline and thought about the broader impacts of her work.

Williams-Ceci similarly enjoyed the chance to speak to a different type of audience than she is used to addressing.

“I hadn’t really had an opportunity in grad school to try communicating to a broad audience, it’s always just to my lab, so I wanted to practice having a chance to really tell a story and not just go through the slides,” she said. “It really helped me know for a fact that I can tell a convincing story about a project that I’ve done.”

Gopal shared that the 3MT was a fun way to combine her longtime artistic interests with her science.

“It seemed like such a fun event. I did a lot of theatre in college so I thought, ‘What can I do artistically here?’ and this seemed like a good mix of my scientific interest and my artistic theatre interests,” she said, adding that she also benefitted from looking at the bigger picture of her work and its impacts.

The 3MT competition was first held in 2008 at the University of Queensland and has since been adopted by over 900 universities in over 85 countries. 3MT challenges research degree students to present a compelling story on their dissertation or thesis and its significance in just three minutes, in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience.

Cornell’s Graduate School first hosted a 3MT competition in 2015 and the event has grown steadily since that time. As the winner of Cornell’s competition, Sundstrom will now go on to compete in northeast regional competitions.

“Our Three Minute Thesis final round is a highlight of the year for those of us in the Graduate School—literally we talk about it all year long,” said Kathryn J. Boor, dean of the Graduate School and vice provost for graduate education. “We look forward to it because it’s just plain fun, and it’s an opportunity for us to watch and learn from our accomplished and creative graduate researchers.”

“I could not possibly be more proud of the work we saw,” she said.

Read the story on the Cornell University Graduate School website.

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Two pediatricians awarded grants as part of ICTS’s Clinical and Translational Research Funding Program

Brian DeBosch and Sarah Greene

Washington University Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (ICTS) and The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital have awarded Brian DeBosch, MD, PhD, and Sarah Greene, MD, PhD, grants as part of the 17th annual Clinical and Translational Research Funding Program (CTRFP). This program is the largest internal grant funding program in the ICTS, requiring applicants to submit proposals for projects in three categories: clinical/translational, community-engaged research, and biostatistics, epidemiology, and research design.

Brian DeBosch, MD, PhD

Project title: “Predictors of Childhood Obesity and Fatty Liver Disease Through Early-Life Stool Virome and Metagenomics” Washington University School of Medicine: Department of Pediatrics, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition

This project aims to identify predictors of obesity and its metabolic complications in otherwise healthy children using virome and metagenomic data from the first stools in life. If we are successful, the data will justify two key next steps. First we will have newly discovered information to then study how and why these virome or metagenomic agents might interact with the host to cause metabolic disease in children. Second, we will validate the predictive findings in subsequent patient cohorts. Our long term goal is to develop early life stool clinical biomarkers to predict obesity and its complications.

Sarah Greene, MD, PhD

Project title: Developing Diagnostics for Onchocerciasis Washington University School of Medicine: Department of Pediatrics, Infectious Diseases

Onchocerciasis is the 2nd leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide, with > 200 million people at risk of infection in Africa. The World Health Organization coordinates efforts to eliminate this infection, but improved diagnostic tests are needed to map infected areas and assess program success. We used a novel approach for protein analysis of parasite reproductive tissue isolated by laser capture from biopsies of infected patients to identify candidate biomarkers for diagnosis of active infections. We identified and will further evaluate 2 potential biomarkers. Further studies of these and additional biomarkers identified in this project may lead to new diagnostic tests needed for elimination of this disease.

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Study Estimates Nearly 70 Percent of Children Under Six in Chicago May Be Exposed to Lead-Contaminated Tap Water

Researchers analyzed results from nearly 40,000 households participating in a voluntary tap-water test program run by the city.

A new analysis led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimates that 68 percent of Chicago children under age 6 live in households with tap water containing detectable levels of lead.

For their analysis, the researchers used machine learning, an artificial intelligence technique, to gauge likely levels of lead in tap water in households across Chicago, based on an existing dataset that includes results from 38,385 tap water tests taken from 2016 to 2023. The tests were from households that had registered for a free self-administered testing service for lead exposure.

The threshold the researchers used was the lowest detectable level of lead in the water tests, one part per billion—roughly the equivalent of a half teaspoon of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool. More than two-thirds—69 percent—of the tests exceeded this level. From this, the machine learning model predicted lead-contaminated water in 75 percent of residential city blocks, covering 68 percent of Chicago children under 6. The Environmental Protection Agency’s current “action” level for lead in drinking water—the point at which a municipality must take additional steps—is 15 ppb. The analysis found that 9 percent of tests had lead levels over 15 ppb. The analysis also found racial inequities in exposure levels and testing rates.

The findings were published online March 18 in JAMA Pediatrics .

Lead is considered a serious environmental toxin, especially for children, with no “safe” exposure level. Lead pipes were used and often required before they were banned in the U.S. in 1986. Many cities still use lead water pipes that were installed prior to their ban. Chicago has more than any other U.S. city, an estimated 400,000 lead pipes that supply water to as many as 2.7 million people. Across the U.S., more than 9.2 million households get water through lead pipes and service lines, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA has proposed that U.S. cities replace all lead water service lines within 10 years. Under the proposal, Chicago would get 40 years to comply, given the disproportionate burden its water infrastructure poses.

“The extent of lead contamination of tap water in Chicago is disheartening—it’s not something we should be seeing in 2024,” says study lead author Benjamin Huynh, PhD, an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering.

For their study, Huynh and colleagues set out to quantify the exposure faced by Chicago children under six.

The researchers began with a publicly available dataset from the Chicago Department of Water Management that contained 38,385 tap water test results for lead that participating Chicago households had taken from January 2016 to September 2023. The results covered about 36 percent of residential blocks in the city.

The researchers then combined these data with U.S. Census and other official data on block-by-block demographics and used machine learning techniques to extrapolate—from the partial coverage of the tap water test results—the likely block-by-block risk of having lead-contaminated water.

The analysis also used the city’s self-reported household survey data to estimate that 19 percent of exposed children—about 129,000 across the city—used unfiltered tap water for drinking. Using modeling, the researchers estimate that exposed children have approximately twice the amount of lead in their blood as unexposed children do.

The analysis suggested there are racial disparities in lead exposure in Chicago. For example, a 10 percentage-point increase in the Hispanic population was associated with an 11.2 percent increase in the chance of lead contamination. The analysis also suggests that Hispanic residents of the city were the least likely to drink unfiltered tap water, with 12 percent responding that they did. By contrast, 32 percent of white residents reported using unfiltered tap water as their primary drinking water source.

As for testing rates, Black and Hispanic populations were less likely to be tested for lead exposure, suggesting gaps in outreach. Ten percentage-point increases in Black and Hispanic populations were associated with 3- and 6-percent decreases respectively in chances of being tested for lead.

The authors note that the study has several limitations. The data on lead testing were anonymized at the block level, so the researchers were not able use household-specific data. The researchers did not have access to citywide pediatric health records, and so had to model the health impacts of lead exposure instead of directly estimating them from data.

“ Estimated Childhood Lead Exposure from Drinking Water in Chicago ” was written by Benjamin Huynh, Elizabeth Chin, and Mathew Kiang.

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