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Jefferson Medical College Alpha Omega Alpha Guide to Research

Introduction and Timeline

While it may take years before you are diagnosing mitral regurgitation in your patients or performing laparascopic cholecystectomies, you can make an impact in patient care at any point in your education or career by getting involved with medical research. There are many reasons for making research a part of your medical school experience, but the path from finding the right project to seeing results from your hard work can be wrought with obstacles. The AΩA Guide to Research provides an overview of different approaches to research at Jefferson and practical advice on how to succeed in achieving your goals. With the right information and a little planning, research can be one of the most important learning experiences of your medical education and enable you to make an impact on patient care from the day you put on your white coat.


The first step in figuring out how to make research a part of your medical school experience is deciding how much time you are able and willing to dedicate to it. Research should not detract from any study time that you need to do well in your classes or rotations. It’s equally important not to overextend yourself and sacrifice too much of your precious free time. However, if you are comfortable with your time management skills, allotting time for research can be a welcome addition to your schedule.

Depending upon the department you choose to work with, research time can be very flexible. If you choose to work on research during the academic year, investigators may be willing to negotiate hours that suit your schedule, e.g. after classes, different times for different days of the week, or reduced hours around exam times. As long as you set realistic goals and follow through on the commitments you make, most physicians are very understanding of your priorities as a student. During the first two years, the amount of time you dedicate to research should be determined by your honest assessment of how much time you need to study and how much extracurricular time you would like to invest in research. Maintaining this schedule for research during Year 3 may be possible at some times, but generally cannot be counted on due to the demands of clinical rotations. During the clinical years, you often do not have control over your own schedule, making it difficult to commit to work hours and deadlines. Fourth year affords more flexibility, but clinical schedules are still a concern.

Throughout the four years of medical school, there are a few periods during which you have the option to focus exclusively on a research project.

The only curricular time devoted to student research is a four week long Basic Science Research requirement during Year 4. During the fourth year it is also possible to schedule a research elective, also four weeks long. The remaining time available for research coincides with vacation time on the academic calendar. There are 10 weeks between first and second years, 7 weeks between second and third years, and two weeks between third and fourth years. You also have a week-long spring break during first and second years, and a two week vacation at the end of December every year. An overview of these times is represented in the figure below.

Figure 1: Medical school timeline


*Shaded areas represent vacations during medical school. Note that the 7 week “vacation” between Years 2 and 3 includes the time you allot to studying for Step 1 of the board exams.

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