52: Summer Research Program(SRP)
In this episode, we discuss the Summer Research Program (SRP) through the eyes of two MS2’s, Katie Sullivan and Kevin Wymer.
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[Music: “Siren Song”, Gonzales]
Episode 52 Transcript
Mohammed Hussain: [0:01] Hello and welcome. You’re listening to the Pritzker Podcast from the University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Medicine.
[0:10] [theme music]
Mohammed: [0:27] Good evening and welcome to another episode of the Pritzker Podcast. Before I go on to the topic of today’s discussion, I first like to forward our sincere thanks, here at the podcast, to Ben Ferguson. Ben has played an absolutely important role in fostering this podcast over the years. We wish you the best of luck in your residency, here at the University of Chicago.
[0:45] Ben was very involved with research, at his time here at Pritzker. Today we would like to discuss an aspect of the Pritzker experience, called the Summer Research Program. The Summer Research Program is a dedicated time to perform research, in between the first and second years of medical school.
[1:00] Today we have two of my classmates and good friends, Kevin Wymer and Katie Sullivan, who are here to speak about their projects.
[1:09] Now I’ll hand it over to our two guests for introductions.
Kevin Wymer: [1:13] Sure. I’m Kevin Wymer. I’m from Albuquerque. I did my undergrad at Vanderbilt University. Then I came straight from there up to Pritzker last year.
Katie Sullivan: [1:22] Great. I’m Katie Sullivan. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. Glenview. I did my undergraduate studies at Georgetown University. Then I took three years off. I did a little bit of global health work. I did a little bit of post vac school work, and then spent some time doing clinical research during those years.
Mohammed: [1:36] Awesome! I guess in this sense, it’s kind of representative of our class as a whole. You have some people who come straight in from college. You have others who take some time off before coming to Pritzker and do really awesome things like Katie did.
[1:49] Just to get into SRP, I know you have projects that are a little bit different from one another. Maybe you could try to explain to the listeners out there how you went about choosing a project. Was it something that you knew you wanted to get into before coming to Pritzker? Or was it something that evolved once you got into medical school?
Kevin: [2:07] First, as choosing a project goes, I definitely used the research guide that we were provided. Clinical research I had. Then a little bit of that in undergrad and enjoyed the patient interaction part of it and the larger scale that you get with that portion. I was looking for something like that. I had an interest in OB and that’s ended up where I looked for the research and how I found my mentor.
[2:27] Once I met with her that was really the deciding factor. I could tell that she would be great to work with. That’s how I went about choosing a project. As far as continuing it from undergrad, in the sense that I had done some other clinical research, it was a continuation. I used it as an opportunity to branch away from the subjects that I had worked on in undergrad and take these 10 weeks to look into something different.
Katie: [2:47] My experience was actually quite similar to Kevin’s. I had some previous experience with clinical research, so I knew that I probably wanted to head in that direction, less so than the basic sciences.
[2:58] I also had had some global health experience, but never in a formal research setting. I wanted to try to find something that would combine those two interests. Also, even though I knew that was probably what I wanted to do, I actually did meet with a few different mentors who had different projects to make sure I was on the right track when I was making my decision.
[3:13] I also ended up using some feedback from Dr. Arora who directs SRP Program, which completed a survey with some information about our background experience and interests, pretty much in the beginning of our first year. She gave us a few suggestions about potential research mentors, projects people had done in the past that might be of interest.
[3:28] That was a really good starting point for me.
Mohammed: [3:30] It seems like both of you combined the resources and experience that you had from your undergraduate or previous life to Pritzker and also your experiences once you got to Pritzker to choose a project. Maybe, since both of you are involved with the research in your undergraduate years or before coming to Pritzker, how is the Summer Research Program a little bit different from those experiences?
Kevin: [3:51] For me, it was a definite shift in responsibility in undergrad or, at least, from my experience, given a more limited role and less amount of time dedication. Whereas, now, that I’m a medical student, it was almost…
[4:01] I’m not an equal with my mentor, but it was seen as a much different role in that she trusted me more and knew the process that I was going through and could really relate to me. I helped to make a lot more responsibility and ownership of the project that I never had quite that level in undergrad.
[4:17] It was really refreshing to really feel like it was partly my project that I was working on and could actually make some of the decisions on where it was going and how it was conducted. I really enjoyed that progression.
Katie: [4:30] I agree. I really enjoyed being able to have more ownership of this project. Even though, it was a short duration, being only 10 weeks.
[4:36] Something that I really liked during this experience was I was able to work with my mentor to develop a project that stemmed from my interests. It ended up being a project that was different from what might have been posed in the SRP book. It was a really challenging, but ultimately really productive experience to get to start a project from the ground up and see what that experience was like.
[4:54] That was very valuable to me and really different than what I had done in the past.
Mohammed: [4:58] In your project, you actually traveled overseas, so maybe you can tell us a little bit about your experience on how it is performing research in the global health track.
Katie: [5:06] I ended up doing a research project on a public health question in Bangladesh. I was living in a rural area outside of the capital. I was actually living in the same building where we were doing our research, which was with the University of Chicago affiliated group that has a large population based study ongoing there.
[5:23] It’s been ongoing there since 2000, so it’s quite well established in the community, which I thought was a really unique experience to get to witness that and learn about that.
[5:29] It’s global health clichÈ, but I definitely got to learn a lot about the challenges of implementing a project in a resource limited setting with a language barrier, readjusting the project, moving things around a little bit throughout the whole process to make sure that we could still get our main research questions even though there were road blocks with equipment and personnel recruitment and things like that.
[5:48] I definitely got some hands on experience in that domain.
Mohammed: [5:52] Kevin touched on this a little bit earlier, but in terms of your relationship with your mentors. Do you think that these are projects that you would continue to work on with your mentor?
Kevin: [6:01] I’m glad you brought that up. As far as SRP goes, I’ve really enjoyed the project and what I got to take away from that, but more so the relationship that I gained with my mentor was more important.
[6:10] I was really able to get to know her well. I started meeting with her last spring during our spring semester, so before the summer, to hatch out our plan for the project and things.
[6:19] She’s actually up at NorthShore in Evanston, so it was a little more difficult during the school year, but I went up there a few times. Then once the summer started, I was up there every day of the week and met with her two or three times a week and really got to know her well.
[6:28] She helped me not only with the project, but also general clinical questions. I got to shadow her and her colleagues two or three days each week that I was up there, which I really enjoyed. The project itself was great, but I really think I took away more from being able to interact with the mentor like that on a routine basis and then shadow and be in the clinical setting on a regular basis.
[6:48] I’m excited to continue working with her for the next few years, at least.
Katie: [6:53] For me, I’m not totally sure if I’m going to continue on the project. I would love to wrap up the work I did and see it through.
[7:00] Maybe for some of the further research I’ll be doing at the university, I might try to do something in Chicago. That’s more a personal decision in terms of where my research and medical interests are right now.
[7:10] I did really like working with my mentor. I was really appreciative of the fact that he was willing to sit down with me and help me plan out a new project. It takes some special time and was really a unique opportunity.
[7:20] I also was really appreciative of the support I got from the general SRP staff. We have these global health cluster groups…We have cluster group meetings for all of the different research domains, but our global health cluster group leaders were especially helpful to me.
[7:34] I got to talk with them and email with them throughout my time in Bangladesh. I was very grateful for their input and troubleshooting.
Mohammed: [7:40] It seems like both of you really enjoyed your projects over the summer and were involved with the research before coming to Pritzker, but was something like research at the University of Chicago an important decision maker or deal breaker for you in terms of choosing a medical school or was research important in general?
Katie: [7:57] Yes, it definitely was something that appealed to me about the university. As I mentioned, I had some background in research and felt that it would be hopefully part of my career as a physician.
[8:06] I liked that the university had these supported opportunities to do research. I also liked that it wasn’t all about research and that research at the University of Chicago means a lot of things. You really see a whole range of diverse projects and questions being talked about and discussed on campus.
[8:21] To me, I liked the breadth of research at the university, everything from community health to super basic science. I also liked the support that the curriculum has for research.
[8:31] SRPs are a really unique, protected time to look at something that interests you that might be new or might be different. There is really no risk when you’re doing it.
[8:40] It’s not really going to impact your career negatively. It’s this really nice supported time to get to explore something that interests you, if you want to.
Kevin: [8:47] Research was one of the guiding reasons why I went into medicine and undergrad. I definitely wanted to continue it, but even more so than that SRP highlighted the really supportive atmosphere at Pritzker and the ability, since we have a smaller class size. It seems a lot more close knit. The ability to get these relationships with these physicians and these mentors and to be able to build up those and form this network within the hospital is something that’s definitely unique to Pritzker.
[9:12] Not only the research, but also the, what I felt was, very good support throughout the whole thing. Mohammed: [9:18] So our listeners can get an idea of what working on an SRP project is like, was this something that you worked on as a full time job? Was this a part time job that you worked on? [9:28] Basically, what was your work schedule like over the summer?
Kevin: [9:31] I would say, probably average, around 40 hours a week, I guess. I was up at NorthShore, so the commute was a little long, but it was definitely more of a nine to five feel as opposed to school where you have a lot of study and things.
[9:40] I really thought that we had a lot of time to enjoy the summer, especially in the evenings, being able to get out into the city. Not being from Chicago, it was great to see a Chicago summer and go to some of the festivals.
[9:50] There’s a lot of music and food going on, hanging out on the beach, took a few trips. I felt like I was able to get a lot done during the day and get a lot done as far as research goes, but still had plenty of time to get out and see the city.
Katie: [10:02] My experience is probably a little bit different because of the setting I was in, but there were definitely times for me when it was a lot more work when we were setting up and, once our project was up and running, it was a little bit more relaxed. Overall, there was plenty of time to do some other things in the summer and really enjoy a little bit of a change of pace.
[10:21] Plus, after SRP, we had an additional four weeks of time before our second year started. That was a really great time to, even though I was gone for the summer, I had ample to catch up with friends and family.
[10:31] I know that there were some people who even did other projects outside of SRP during that time off.
Mohammed: [10:35] It seems like it was only a couple of days ago when we were all applying for Pritzker, so if you had some parting words of wisdom to those on the interview trail, what are some suggestions that you would provide for them?
Katie: [10:47] I would say that it really doesn’t hurt to start talking to people about what interests you and start thinking about what you might be interested in doing as a medical student. You don’t want to commit to anything, but having meetings with people and trying to see what is out there in terms of what position they’re doing and researchers are doing is the best thing you can do to start getting the wheels turning about what you might want to do.
Kevin: [11:09] I think Katie really…It’s really hit on the button there and that. It’s a lot about what you personally want to do. It’s important to think about curriculum and scores and all these things, but that can get over overwhelming.
[11:20] More important than that is to see which school’s really fit your personal interests, whether that’s research interests or clinical or community based, whatever you have, start to see what people are there that you talk to and what programs are in place that really fit more your personal view of where you see yourself going.
Mohammed: [11:33] Excellent advice from both Katie and Kevin. I would like to thank both of our guests today for providing their time and insights into the Summer Research Program.
[11:42] With that, I would like to sign off on this episode of the Pritzker Podcast. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us, here at the podcast. We will be absolutely willing to field your question appropriately.