Tell me about your research experience

This is a fairly standard question.  This question can be posed broadly, or interviewers may ask specific questions about projects from your CV.  This post will address the general question and how you can use it as an opportunity to take control of the interview. 

Image by Michael Jarmoluk from Pixabay

There are several different routes you can take in responding to this prompt and tailor your answer based on your strengths.  For example, if your research experience has been working in a lab, but has hasn’t generated many presentations or publications, you should highlight the extensive time you have invested and describe the contributions you hope your work will eventually make.  On the other hand, if you have been extremely productive with your research, I would make sure that you emphasize that point.  Particularly for students that have taken research years, this is the perfect opportunity to describe who you worked with and what research you were involved with.  If you don’t have much research experience, get started today!

As always, I recommend writing out a sketch or outline of your response.  Here was mine:

“First got involved in urology research and was doing basic science and clinical work on kidney stones. My plastics research has mainly been with abdominal wall reconstruction, understanding fat grafting, and studying some of the softer aspects of the field such as bibliometrics.  I am in charge of clinical research for the division of plastic surgery at UAB and we have twice montly research meetings attended by medical students, residents and faculty to discuss the progress of ongoing projects, think of new ideas, and handle any logistical items such as IRB approvals that need to be in order. I’ve been extremely thankful to have had incredible mentors that have been willing to allow me lots of independence and opportunity to work as hard as I want to. This has been very fruitful with numerous publications and presentations regionally, nationally, and internationally.”

While open ended prompts can be difficult, they give you the opportunity to speak on what you want to discuss.  If you want to highlight a particular project that you are proud of or an experience that demonstrates qualities of hard work, persistence, and determination, then do it.  The points that I wanted to highlight based on my research experience included:

  • Diversified research experience (basic science, clinical, and educational)
  • Leadership role in research (head of the plastic surgery division’s clinical research efforts as a medical student, writing IRBs, onboarding medical students, developing new project ideas)
  • Humility (give credit to the mentors for all of the success)
  • Hard work (volume is the key to research for bolstering your residency application)
  • Scope of work (how productive these efforts had been in terms of presentations and publications)

In my preparation for this question, I also went line by line through my CV and wrote out a brief synopsis of the project and our findings to have a guide that I could review of some of the research I had done earlier in my medical school career, was peripherally involved with, or didn’t fully understand despite collecting all the data for the project.  Interviewers will ask you specifically about individual projects.  You want to be prepared to discuss in depth the research you have done.  Stammering through a response and not understanding the background or topic of your research sends a bad message to interviewers about your involvement in the project. 

A great way to end your answer to this question is by looking towards the future.  A blanket statement expressing that you aim to finalize your ongoing projects and look forward to participating in research endeavors as a resident can be a nice way to tie up your answer and refocus the conversation on why you are interviewing: to get a residency spot at the program of your choice. 

What questions do you have about discussing your research experience?  Comment below or use the contact form to get in touch with us directly

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