Research at Penn Med: An MS4 Perspective

Last week, MS1 Andrew Becker shared his experience getting involved in research at Penn Med. Today, MS4 Melody Xu reflects on her research experiences over the last five years. 

When I was deciding where to go for medical school, the availability of research opportunities was not a top criterion. I took it for granted because I figured that I would be able to find some type of research project in some department anywhere if I searched hard enough. Yet, as I look forward to graduating with an MD and Masters in Translational Research (MTR) in a few months, I am grateful for the wealth of engaging research projects I’ve found at Penn over the past five years. Most importantly, I am grateful for the culture of mentorship at Penn that allows medical students to easily connect with any faculty or resident as our interests evolve over time.

Some research projects are self-initiated. For a global health course I took in the first semester of medical school, I started a research paper on cervical cancer screening in rural China. As part of this study, I stumbled upon the website of an organization supporting cervical cancer screening in rural India. To my surprise, I discovered that a resident at Penn was involved in this work as a medical student! I reached out to her via email, and was easily able to set up a meeting. We have been working together on global oncology projects ever since.

Sometimes research projects find you instead. About two years ago, I received an email recruiting students to help with a pilot standardized patient program for resident education. It was a project marked by “firsts”: my first time writing an IRB protocol, first experience designing a research study, and first time working with a statistician. I am thankful for my mentors who found me and, through their patience, taught me to approach each element with methodical (and efficient) care. Though the original project has come to a close, we have continued our productive partnership, writing and organizing events together to improve medical education.

When I was ready to pursue research as a full-time year-long commitment, I found an abundance of resources at Penn. The Penn year-out website led me to a research mentor who was developing a novel translational technology in oncology. Our project proposal was formulated within two weeks. By the time I began preparing to apply for outside fellowship funding, an invitation to apply for Penn’s MTR program popped up in my inbox. (Perfect!) The year-out was a formative experience. Under my research mentor, I experienced a healthy blend of autonomy and guidance to grow my lab competency. Through the MTR program, I gained exposure to the challenging, yet meaningful, process of translational research that strongly shapes my career goals today.

Penn offers medical students an incredibly vibrant research environment. Our administration is infinitely supportive and anyone who is open to research will undoubtedly find an outpouring of invitations from fellow medical students, residents, and faculty. I hope you choose to join us at Penn Med to experience all that we have to offer!

Melody Xu is an MS4, originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2009, majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology. In her free time, she enjoys playing volleyball, biking, and discovering new snacks at Trader Joe’s.

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