DGSOM students are exposed to scientific inquiry and research concepts in the classroom from their first day. After the first year, they start putting these concepts into practice through summer research programs.
"During the first two years of medical school, students learn a little about a lot of things," says Dr. Linda Baum, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, and medical director for UCLA's Clinical Laboratory. "Our summer programs give them the chance to learn a lot about one thing -- to think deeply about a focused area and start gaining some expertise."
Short-term training, long-term success
Most students participate in one of these six-to-eight-week programs. They receive stipends from the Dean's Office while working with faculty mentors on every aspect of a research project — including lab meetings, journal clubs, conferences and clinical trials.
The school offers dedicated summer programs for geriatrics, family medicine, hospital administration and psychiatry, but most students enter Dr. Baum's Short-Term Training Program (STTP).
"STTP is the broadest program and the most highly subscribed, because students can work in any area where they can find a faculty mentor," explains Dr. Baum. "They don't even have to stay in the medical school. They can work with someone in public health or engineering. If they want to do an ethics project, they can work with a mentor in the philosophy department. If they want to do a history of medicine project, they can work with a history professor."
This flexibility lets students explore different areas of research to find out which medical specialties really interest them and which do not. "If they do a summer project and decide it's not what they ultimately want to do, that's a positive result, because they've ruled something out," says Dr. Baum. "In medicine, we call that a pertinent negative."
Although research projects begin during the summer, students who enjoy the work often develop relationships with their mentors that last over the four years and inspire more in-depth projects. "Afterwards, they have some expertise in an area and can talk knowledgeably about something cutting-edge," says Dr. Baum. "That's what residency programs look for — physicians and researchers who can contribute to knowledge in a field."
A student-driven approach
Some of the smaller research programs match students with faculty mentors, but STTP participants do the legwork themselves to find their own opportunities.
"We purposefully designed the program this way," says Dr. Baum. "We want students to figure out what they like, talk with different faculty members, find the kind of mentoring relationship they want to have and ultimately work on a project they find challenging and interesting. Half the learning happens before the summer even begins."
Some students are initially a bit anxious about cold-calling potential mentors, but they walk away with skills they'll need in the future when finding fellowships or career opportunities on their own. "They have to take the initiative to find the thing that's right for them," says Dr. Baum. "This program is for people who want to be drivers, not passengers."
Learn more about STTP and other summer research programs offered by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
By Taylor Mallory Holland