The MD/PhD provides selected individuals the opportunity to acquire key benefits of a doctoral research program. These include:
(i) acquisition of expertise in depth in a particular discipline
(ii) development of critical thinking and experimental design skills
(iii) advanced, hands-on research training within their own individualized research project (iv) creation and publication of original knowledge in peer reviewed international journals. Collectively these can provide the tools and experience necessary as a foundation for a subsequent independent research career in biomedical research.
Research Training Opportunities: Individuals in the MD/PhD program complete the requirements for two independent degrees. The MD component develops the skills necessary for a career in the practice of medicine. The PhD component develops research skills and provides experience required for biomedical research.
How does it work? Trainees first complete the first two years of the undergraduate MD program, providing a broad background in medicine and biology. They then take a funded sabbatical from their MD studies to carry out a research based PhD. This can be conducted in any department at the University of Manitoba that offers a PhD program. When all experimental work, and usually the initial draft of the doctoral thesis are completed, trainees resume medical studies at third year MD training.
The length required for PhD graduate training is variable, depending upon research proficiency and success, and is typically 3 to 5 years. Pursuit of graduate studies in some departments may require that candidates first register for the M.Sc. program then transition to the PhD program upon satisfactory progress in the first year. This neither extends the time nor experimental productivity required for the doctoral degree. We attempt to accommodate individual requirements, and different research plans, meaning that variations on the above may be considered.
Eligibility: All candidates must be admitted to the MD program to be considered for the MD/PhD option. Students currently enrolled in first or second year MD, or those who are admitted to Medicine during spring/summer to begin that September, are eligible to apply. A student must be acceptable to both the MD training program and to the Faculty of Graduate Studies to be offered admission to the MD/PhD Program. Medical students may apply up until February/March 1 of their second year.
Identifying a PhD supervisor: This is likely the most important part of your decision. Unlike MD (or MBA or Pharmacy etc.) programs where a class progresses together through a large number of instructors and mentors, your doctoral research experience is greatly shaped by the supervisor who mentors you, the lab you work in and the project you take on as your own. Courses are a requirement but it is your original research that gets you your PhD.
There is no single correct approach to identifying a supervisor – it is a very personal decision because you will work closely together. Important considerations (and questions for you to address) include: Is the area exciting to you? Do you see yourself building a career in it? Is the lab active and well funded, with good chemistry between coworkers? Is there energy and passion for research in the lab and local environment? What are the publication records of your potential advisors (search PubMed)? Have a chat with the Chair of Grad studies identified on the department websites. It is wise (and totally appropriate) to talk with students/fellows/techs in the potential mentor’s lab and in neighbouring labs to obtain and compare their impressions of your shortlist. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices a bit, go talk with several prospective mentors. First email them your CV, a brief personal statement about why you want research training, and tell them you’re considering graduate studies. Go to coffee and talk.
The specific project is important (you’ll be doing it for 3+ years), but arguably less so than the environment in which you will acquire your research expertise and discipline specific knowledge. You’ll own many projects over a lifetime.
Dr. Mark Nachtigal
Director, Advanced Degrees in Medicine