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Jefferson Medical College Alpha Omega Alpha Guide to Research

Basic Science Research

Working on a basic science research project as a medical student is a great way to gain research experience and exposure to a specific field of medicine. There are a large number of such research opportunities at Jefferson, in both the clinical and the basic science departments. These projects encompass a wide range of basic science approaches from in vitro molecular biology experiments to behavioral pharmacology paradigms using laboratory animals. However, there are a number of considerations one must take into account before about embarking on such a project.

When looking into basic research opportunities as a medical student one of the first things to think about is when will you have time to spend working on a basic science research project. Basic science research projects often require more time and a more rigid schedule than clinical research projects. Often students have time for such projects during the first year, between the first and second years and during fourth year elective research rotations and advanced basic science courses. Please note that for your research to count as your advance basic science rotation you will need to get approval far in advance. Most students do not have the time during the second and third years due to the heavy course workload during those years.

Finding a research mentor is also an important step. As stated above there are numerous basic science research opportunities available at Jefferson. There are detailed instructions for identifying such opportunities in the Departments section of the AOA guide to research ( Additional ways of identifying research mentors include speaking with basic science faculty who lecture during the pre-clinical curriculum, searching PubMed to look at the publications from a given laboratory and speaking to upper year students about their research projects.

Once you have identified an opportunity that you would like to pursue schedule a meeting with the faculty member who would be serving as your research mentor. During the meeting you need to discuss the specific aims of the project, your role in achieving those aims, the technical stills required to generate such data, training requirements (i.e. if you need to complete animal or radiation training sessions) and the time estimated to complete your portion of the project. You should also inquire about funding sources for reagents, supplies, meeting presentations and salary (if working on the project during summer break) as well as the publication strategy for the project (i.e. will you have the opportunity to be the first author on publications or will the post-doc or graduate student you are working with be the primary author).

In order to be productive in a basic science laboratory one must have the technical skills to accomplish the research objectives. Some students may have developed such skills during their undergraduate education while others may have had very little training in this area. It is very important to figure out which technical skills will be required for your project, how you will learn those skills if you do not already possess them, whether the technique is commonly used in the laboratory you will be joining as well as the level of difficulty for the specific technique. Many techniques such as basic PCR, Western Blotting, cell culture, ELISA and nucleic acid isolation are standard and most laboratories have established protocols. Others experimental approaches such as behavioral neuroscience animal assays, recombinant DNA techniques, gene chip experiments and complex enzyme assays require a higher degree of technical skill and require more time to optimize.

When working on a basic science research project it is also important to realize that publications often take more time to generate. Such papers often require multiple experiments and approaches to investigate a particular research question. As a result, it may take more time to gain authorship on a basic research publication than it would for a clinical research project. That being said, basic science publications show a solid commitment to research and look great on your residency application!

As stated above, there are a tremendous number of basic research opportunities for medical students at Jefferson. If you are interested in pursuing one of those opportunities, make sure that you fully understand the expectations your mentor has for your project.


Updated 1/2009 by Jake Dahl, Leslie Moroz and Robin Horak, Class of 2009

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