there are multiple questions in here so please bear with me.

I am currently a freshman undergraduate student at a large public university in the US. Looking at my coursework and credits, I noticed that I am a bit ahead and will graduate within 3 years.

1.) What should I do with my fourth year? I am interested in pursuing an MD/PHD, and was wondering if I should take additional graduate classes, take some time off to prepare for the MCAT, or just directly apply after my third year.

2.) Should I pursue a thesis or try to go for some publications? One of the things that I read here in the Academia Stackexchange was publishing something, for instance submitting a thesis or printing a book, disqualifies you from sending that piece of work towards journals. What are the benefits of doing one or the other and what do admissions committees look favorably to?

3.) How do you deal with failure and discouragement in research? Lately I've failed again and again for the past few weeks. I have created a pretty established protocol tailored for the lab that I am working at and I run the experiment beforehand in my head over and over. After performing a run, I get reproducible results however the data that I get is not what what I am looking for. I then evaluate all the work that has been done and try to see if there are any improvements or things that I could have done better, sources of error that may have affected the results, and refine my protocol. As of right now, I am kind of stuck and do not wish to blindly use reagents and hope for a serendipitous outcome.

Thank you for your time.

  • 1
    I'm voting to close because there are too many questions here, 3) is a duplicate, "Should I pursue a thesis or try to go for some publications?" is too specific to your interests and background, and unlikely to apply to others in similar situations. However, note that submitting a thesis to your school does not typically count as publication, so you can turn your thesis into one or more articles and submit them to journals. You'll find lots more information here.
    – mhwombat
    Nov 6, 2015 at 15:00
  • With regard to the discouragement issue -- if you have an advisor, time to check in with him or her. If not, you need one, or some kind of research mentor. Another thing that might help is moral support from a peer who is at a similar stage in his or her academic career. Nov 7, 2015 at 2:14

1 Answer 1


I am a senior at a large public school in the US, and I believe I can help guide you. To give you some perspective on me: I am part of a program that prepares students for a PhD, and we travel to different graduate schools and talk to the admissions administrators/boards. First thing you should know is that nothing I say is the same for every school, and it is really important for you to look at schools and contact them to see what they desire in an applicant.

For your first question, keep in mind that medical programs are very competitive. To give you an idea, volunteering hours required to get into most schools is incredibly high (varying with 400 hours minimum). You also want a competitive gpa and MCAT, of course. Again, schools will be quite different so take a look at their requirements or contact them.

In regards to research/publishing, the most common thing to do is research in a lab. Both are looked very highly upon (said every school I visited). Since they are both great, then do not ask which to do because the difference to a school is insignificant. It is more about picking which one you enjoy more.

Lastly, are you doing research under an adviser? It is very important to form bonds with professors to learn and eventually receive letters of recommendation. A good way to form these bonds are through independent research under their guidance. You are just starting out so it is important to learn from a well educated researcher and have guide you through your troubles. The advisement is also a form of motivation, because they want to see you do well and you know they will be there for you.

Work hard and be passionate about what you do. Everything is a little easier when you are enjoying it.

Good luck.

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