When to Start Your Research Fellowship
Typically, residents start their research fellowship following the completion of the third year of residency. This can vary and will depend on significant discussion with the department chair, resident coordinators, and the vice chair of surgical research. Fellowships can range from one to two years. Two years is preferable to allow you time to successfully complete the designed research project and publish your findings. Timing should be discussed with the department chair and the lab principal investigator (PI).
You should start the process of finding a lab a year before you enter the lab in order to be able to apply for funding to support your research. This would be at the beginning of your third year of residency.
Finding a Lab
Once you have decided to complete the research fellowship, you should begin discussions with potential lab PIs one year to six months prior to the start of the fellowship. At this point, you should reach out to the vice chair of surgical research who directs the Division of Surgical Research for a list of participating laboratories and the PIs/mentors to contact. These laboratories may be within or outside the Department of Surgery. You will want to meet with as many potential mentors as possible. It is during this time you will learn about key components of the lab and mentor that will drive the success or failure of the fellowship.
The PI or primary mentor is a trained researcher (Ph.D., M.D., or M.D./Ph.D.) who has an active basic science laboratory. The mentor should be doing research in an area that interests you. They should be significantly involved in your research project and should plan to meet with you on a weekly basis to discuss experimental difficulties and generated data. The PI should be financially able to support the research project including supplies and animal work. Additionally, the PI should approve your attendance to relevant science conferences where you will present your data and meet colleagues in the field. Consistent communication between the resident and PI is critical for formation of a successful career development plan and research project. Keep in mind that your mentor will play a key role in your applications for future surgical fellowships.
Questions for fellows to ask potential mentors
- What is your general research area?
- What projects are you working on?
- Is there a project that would fit with my tight one to two year time frame that would allow me to generate data for publications quickly?
- Do you have specific conferences in mind that would be appropriate for me to submit an abstract for potential podium presentation?
- How often does the lab meet to discuss progress on research projects?
- How often will we meet one on one to discuss progress?
- What are the resources that would be available for me? Equipment? Animal training?
- Is there desk space for me?
- Is there bench space for me?
- Where is the laboratory located?
- How many fellows, technicians, students are in the lab?
- What is the current funding level?
- What has been the success of former fellows in terms of manuscripts, grants, jobs, etc?
- What are your expectations in terms of grant submissions by me?
It is also useful to speak with current and past fellows in the laboratory to get a perspective on the day-to-day work environment and their overall research experience.
Applying for Funding Prior to Starting Fellowship
Once you have cofirmed your lab and PI, you should work with your PI to apply for funding. A list of foundations that offer financial awards for resident research can be found at the Funding Opportunity link at the top of the page. Most deadlines for these grants in the fall prior to your start in the lab with awards being administered in the following spring or summer. Therefore, you need to work with your PI to decide which foundation to apply to and to write the grant.
Requirements and Expectations of the Fellow
- Identify a PI/Mentor and confirm with them your plans to start a research fellowship in their lab.
- Confirm with the department chair, resident coordinator and vice chair your plans to complete a research fellowship. Document all communications.
- Make sure that all clinical requirements are clearly understood between the PI and the department chair.
- With your PI, identify and document a research project. Make sure that both of you agree on the objectives and planned experiments.
- Identify a Research Advisory Committee consisting of at least three faculty members, one of whom is either the program director or the research director.
- Coordinate the advisory committee meetings every 6 months for progress reports and career goals.
- Attend and be an active participant in laboratory meetings.
- Obtain necessary training and approvals for the project.
- Attend a national science conference and submit an abstract for a potential podium talk at least once per year.
- Submit a grant application.
- Complete a research project within two years of research training.
*Note, it is your responsibility to design, organize and complete the experiments needed to finish your research project and publish your findings. Lab personnel including graduate students, lab technicians and post doc fellows can help train you in specific areas but are not there to perform experiments for you.
- Write at least one manuscript to be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
Suggested Optional Activities
- Identify and attend select seminars of interest in basic science departments (Dept. of Pathology, Dept of Immunology, Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology). Ask your PI to be included on emails that advertise these seminars.
- Attend and present research at focused scientific meetings (SITC, ATS).
- Join appropriate societies, memberships (AAI, AACR).
- Teaching or clinical activities.
- Delivering lectures or seminars in areas not related to your research project.
- Developing a secondary research project in a completely different area from your primary interest.
Remember, the research fellowship provides you with the most protected time of your research career. Take advantage of that. Stay focused. Do not become distracted.