For most students applying to a BS/MD program, having some research experience can help your admissions chances. However, this typically means a summer’s worth of research with a local college professor helping on the professor’s research. But some students are much more involved with research over a longer period of time, typically more than a year. If this is you, the question I often get asked is do you need a competitive research program to be a stronger BS/MD candidate.
The answer is a clear NO.
Let’s define what I mean by a competitive research program. This is a set program, sponsored by some organization, that does not accept all of the students that apply. Examples include but are not limited to research at the National Institutes of Health, NIH, and the Research Science Institute, RSI, at MIT.
While it is considered prestigious to get into these types of programs, BS/MD programs are not generally interested in prestige. They are interested in students that have a passion, of which research may be an option, and if these competitive research programs are part of that passion or focus, great. But the focus on having research relates to making sure the student understands the scientific process. That can be learned in almost any type of research setting. And while I have seen some strong research by students involved in these competitive programs, I have seen just as strong of research from students that have done their research closer to home.
Moreover, there are circumstances when the student that volunteers with a local college professor is a stronger candidate than the competitive research student. Some students that enjoy research will continue the research past the summer and continue to help the professor on their work throughout the school year. This longer commitment to doing research is typically viewed more favorably than even the competitive research programs that usually only last one summer.
It is fine if the student does several years of research and includes a competitive research program as part of that time. Several years of any focus is great to have. But if you enjoy the research you are doing locally, don’t worry about the competitive research programs. You may be better off staying home to do your research.