Hi! I know the answers will probably vary among person to person/ depend on course load and work schedule, but could you give an example of how many hours would be reasonable to spend towards research and volunteering along with a typical moderate-heavy course load, both pre and during covid? Additionally, I\\\’m having a hard time gauging how many extracurriculars to participate in at once, as continuity of activities is important, but one also can\\\’t realistically be doing everything at the same time for all 4 years. Do you have any insight as to how to better manage maintaining continuity but still be able to dedicate meaningful time to each activity without spreading it too thin? Lastly, how important is continuity for research? Is it typically done more as a multi year type activity or a one-and-done over the summer/ one semester type thing? Sorry for the long post, A.
This is a very good question and one that I am sure many other students have. As you mentioned, there really is no right answer. Everyone has different schedules and personal limitations that make it difficult to give a specific response. In general, I would prioritize your weekly hours like this:
- Coursework: This is, by far, one of the most important things you do not want to forget about or disregard. Your learning, studying, and grades should come first because those play a large role in how prepared you are for medical school. A good rule of thumb to follow is that for every credit a class is, you should spend 2-3 hours studying for that class during the week. (Ex. Physics 135 – 4 credits ~ 8-12 hours a week (on average)). This range differs per individual but is a good place to start.
- MCAT: This may not apply to every student right now and your schedule for the MCAT might look different, but in the instance that you are studying for the MCAT while taking classes, this should be your next top priority. Studying daily, even if it’s for one hour, in the months before your exam is necessary. If you want more advice on MCAT studying and schedules, look here.
- Everything else! Extracurriculars like clinical experiences, volunteering, research, and clubs are excellent supplements to your classes and should likely be in your weekly schedule in some form.
- Doing around 1-3+ hours of volunteering weekly for a longer period of time is better than doing 30+ hours in one week or one month. You do want to show some sort of longevity with your volunteering, mainly in terms of consistently providing some service to others in your everyday life. This reflects well on you and your commitment to medicine.
- Clinical experiences, in the form of volunteering or a job, are also great to have but may be better suited during your summers or when you have a lighter course load. During covid, this can be difficult, but there are other options such as virtual shadowing or maintaining your pre-covid clinical work in a remote format, if possible.
- Your longevity in clubs is also beneficial. Generally, it is suggested you pick 1-3 (max) clubs to pursue until your senior year. Clubs can help shape your college experience and show who you are and what you are passionate about. In addition, participating in certain clubs for a longer period of time opens up opportunities for leadership roles and hands-on experience. More on this below.
- Research is often recommended but does not need to be your main priority if you are not interested in it! There are plenty of ways to get involved in lighter research or more intense research and the number of hours you spend weekly depends on your situation. Generally, research requires upwards of 4 hours a week, but research can also be done over the summers! I would encourage you to focus less on the quantity of research (as in, I need to do X amount of hours of research to get into medical school) and focus more on the quality of your experience in research. If you are doing research you love or find interesting, it will be easy for you to make time for it during your week. However, if you do not enjoy your research topic or are only partaking in research for med school applications, then I suggest you reconsider. It is always okay to join a new research team if your current research is not fulfilling and it is more important to be actively learning and engaging with your research as opposed to passively checking a box for med school.
In regards to scheduling, we have exit tickets posted here where you can see sample schedules. Here is a general guide on planning your semesters with an example 4-year plan and testimonials from past students.
In response to continuity, you should always be reflecting and crafting out your individual passions, in medicine or outside of it. Your extracurricular activities, such as the types of volunteering you decide to partake in, the clubs you pursue, or the research group you join, should reflect those passions. This not only helps you tell your story and shape who you are but also makes it easier and more fun for you to continue in your 4 years! You can make time for the things you love but it is very difficult to maintain continuity if you are not enjoying what you are doing (moreover, it makes it more difficult to describe genuinely in your application/interviews). In the instance that you have many things you are passionate about and participating in but not able to realistically continue with all of them, you should re-evaluate and restrict your schedule to only your TOP favorites. You may have to make some tough decisions, but in the end, knowing and abiding by your limits as a student and as a human is so important. If you spread yourself too thin, there may be cracks and set-backs in your other activities. To avoid that, make sure you are reflecting on your experiences and only pursuing those you truly love and can make time for. Balance is key!
I hope that helps! If you want to talk in more detail, be sure to stop by our advising hours (Sunday-Wednesday 6-10 pm) and we would love to help you out!
Leen, PMH Advisor
Hi!! I love your blog and I am going to be a sophomore this upcoming school year! I did research with my UROP team but I didn’t ask my research mentor about continuing. I don’t plan on doing the sophomore UROP program but I also want to continue research my old project was great but it was involving COPD and I’m not sure if it’s sciency enough for medical school. since it focused on kinesiology and exercise programs. I loved the team though, I don’t think they can afford to hire another student and since I’m not doing UROP I can’t get credit hours either. How can I ask for a position on their team? Also, is it okay for me to continue on this project, they’re lovely people but most of the work I did the last year was excel work and data entry? Idk if that’s enough science experience to put down on med school applications as research because again I was just doing excel work and data entry? Any help would be much appreciated. thanks 🙂
Thanks for the question and sorry for the late response! Next time, it may be easier if you post your question on the main Q&A page instead of underneath another question so we can see it quicker.
There are actually two other ways (that I know of) you can continue with your current research group.
- You could volunteer as a research assistant. If the research lab is housed in the medical school, you can fill out paperwork to be a UM Medicine volunteer, which would require 8 hours/week. If not, I am sure they would still be happy to have you as a volunteer!
- Another path you could take is to receive class credit for working in the lab. Depending on your major, you can fill out paperwork with a faculty mentor and sign up for a 1-3 credit class for your research lab. Most research for credit courses require that you periodically update your faculty member with the type of work you are doing in the lab through 1-page summaries or short presentations, but that is the only additional work you would be doing.
However, before applying for these options, I highly recommend you reach out to your PI or the main professor in the lab and see if they are able to accommodate you next year. Offer to be a volunteer or potentially do research for credit and show your continued interest in working in their lab! If they are able to have you back, that’s great, and if not, there are plenty of other labs you can reach out to! (We have a helpful guide on sending out emails to research labs here).
In regards to the type of work you are doing, research of any kind, in general, should still count towards medical school. Working with data as opposed to doing wet-lab work is still important and vital to research. If you are content with excel work and data entry, great! If you would like to be more heavily involved in the lab, you can include that in your email to your PI. Letting them know that you would like to have a more hands-on role in the lab is a great way to show them that you are really interested in the research topic. Sometimes, labs will designate hands-on roles to graduate students or more experienced individuals, so if that is the case, you may find that you can work up to that level over time. If you would prefer to work in a wet lab conducting experiments on mice or other organisms, there are plenty of other labs to consider!
I hope that helps! Let us know if you have any other questions!
Leen, PMH Advising Manager