November 07, 2016

Charles: Solving problems

Physician scientists are specially trained to bridge two worlds

Michigan Medical Scientist Training Program

The Michigan Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) offers students the opportunity to combine a MD and PhD in any field related to medicine. About 10-12 fellows are admitted each year to this competitive program. They choose research areas ranging from traditional biomedical sciences to other less conventional fields like anthropology and philosophy.

Charles is in his second year of the Biomedical Engineering PhD. He works with Dr. Parag Patil to study ways to improve deep brain stimulation and use it to treat new diseases.

Here he answers 10 questions about life as an MSTP and what he is looking forward to in the future.

How did you find out about the University of Michigan MSTP?

I first heard about U-M's program from friends at Michigan when I was trying to decide between MD and PhD career paths. I learned a lot more from talking to MSTP director Dr. Ron Koenig. (You should go meet him if you haven't already!)

What do you like about being a physician scientist?

I couldn't decide between becoming a researcher and physician, so now I get to do both! Plus, we're in a position to actually apply our scientific findings to impact clinical practice.

What preparation and research experience did you have before applying to the Michigan MSTP?

I had worked closely with an MD-PhD neurosurgeon prior to applying, giving me a solid background in translational research. I also dedicated a lot of time to learning technical skills outside of medicine, e.g., linear algebra, signals processing, etc., because I knew that once I entered medical school, it would be much more difficult to really branch out.

Did you rotate in labs related to this area of research or did you explore other options?

I rotated in other labs to pick up new skills and establish relationships with other researchers. I ended up staying with my undergrad lab to continue my project, but learned a lot from working with other groups.

What has the transition been like between the MD and PhD phases of the MSTP curriculum?

The freedom and flexibility of the research years are just fantastic. There are so many things to do on and around campus, and I quickly filled up my newfound time with new activities.

Have you had any “a-ha” moments?

All the time. Much of research is solving a million little problems to get to the heart of one big problem. Overcoming each obstacle is a little victory. Portioning out big projects into little ones keeps me motivated with achievable goals each week. I also work with fantastic colleagues that push me to extend my boundaries.

How does the structure of Michigan’s MSTP support your research efforts?

The MSTP administrators are amazing at what they do and make sure that students can focus their time on what matters to them. The community within the program has also been an invaluable resource that provides advice on everything ranging from funding sources to restaurant suggestions.

Having conversations about your work is a great way to build connections with faculty inside and outside if your department. Even better, you can talk about their research. Everyone here is curious and enthusiastic about learning from each other.

What do you like to do outside of the lab/classroom?

I spend a lot of my time outside of lab working with a consulting firm and a student-led venture capital fund. My life in graduate school has been incredibly flexible, giving me ample time to pursue my interests.

What would you say to a prospective student about the benefits of attending the University of Michigan as an MSTP?

There are very few universities out there that are good at everything they do, ranging from biology to economics to nuclear engineering. As medicine and science become progressively more interdisciplinary and collaborative, having a truly diverse set of expertise around you will be critical to doing impactful work.

What are you looking forward to next?

We have a handful of projects in various stages of progress, and I'm looking forward to getting each one into its next stage. Publications, new results and setting up novel experiments are all pretty exciting.