By Luigi Zolio
It’s that time of the year when people start to consider whether to take a whole year off from their studies to do … more study! A BMedSci, formally known as Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours), is a one-year research degree that can be undertaken after the completion of Year 3B. It’s a very popular program and a well-established one for people who want to get a proper first-hand experience with research. So how do you go about pursuing it?
1. Find your reasons to do it.
People pursue a BMedSci for a number of reasons, including:
- I just need a break from medicine.
That’s perfectly acceptable. Choosing a BMedSci project with a low to moderate workload is a great way to have a year off while still being productive. BUT just beware that regardless of your project, your literature review and thesis submission periods (April and September, respectively) will be busy times and they are no walk in the park. How can you know if your project will be a busy or light one? Talk to your prospective supervisor (see below). Otherwise, a year-long trip through Europe/South America/being a barista in the world’s most liveable city are also not bad ways to spend a year!
- I really want a job in an inner city hospital.
While research is looked upon favourably by any hospital these days, the best advice I’ve heard so far about internship is that it DOES NOT MATTER where you end up for your first year. Most people grow to love where they end up, and if they want to move a year later, they can! Besides, if you’re a domestic student you are GUARANTEED a job in Victoria. Take a deep breath!
- I want those publications!
That’s not a bad reason to do it – but be prepared to work for it. Find a supervisor who is well-published and who will push you to produce something publishable. All research SHOULD be published or communicated in some forum (conference presentations/posters), but not all will fit the somewhat terse requirements of journals. So make sure you have realistic expectations about your project.
- I want to get into .
Look, while doing research generally earns people brownie points when applying for things, be prepared to MAJORLY change your career aspirations between now and when you apply for specialty training. Putting all eggs in one basket is bound for failure. BUT (see below).
- I just want to learn how to do research.
GREAT! I think that is the most sustainable reason to do it, and I’d argue that this reason, plus any of the above, make for great motivations to do the BMedSci. Whether you get published or not, change career aspirations, want a break (or a challenging year), as long as you’re in it for the learning experience, you will have a great year.
So when should you do it?
You can do a BMedSci after third, fourth or final year. Which time is the best?
- Pros: if you need a break at that time, it’s reasonable to do it then!
- Cons: Year 4C gives great clinical exposure that you might benefit from before committing to a project. And also, you might deskill/lose some of your third year knowledge by the time you return and have to sit the exams at the end of 4C.
- Pros: your big barrier exams are out of the way, and you’ve had more clinical exposure
- Cons: your friends will graduate before you. BUT you get to make new friends in your new cohort! And your friends will be interns during your final year, and will buy you coffee.
- Be very careful to consider your reasons for delaying your internship after Year 5D to do research. 5D is designed to prepare you to be a competent and safe intern, and you will de-skill after an extended period of time off. That being said, some people do a BMedSci after 5D for a range of reason and still survive internship!
So how the heck do you go about it?
3. Find a supervisor (no, not your project first, the supervisor!).
Your supervisor will make or break your research year. It’s very important to find someone who you gel well with, who has similar expectations about the year to you, and who will positively encourage and guide you through your project. Some people chase very impressive and distinguished professors to supervise them, and that can be very good so long as they have the time to appropriately guide you. Others might go with lower profile, early career researchers who might just be more available people to mentor you through your year. I had a supervisor and a co-supervisor in both of those categories, and I had a great experience.
Some ways to find good supervisors:
- Look for a project that catches your eye.
Email your supervisor, find a time to meet them. It’s okay to meet with several supervisors before you choose a project. Likewise, some of them might meet with several students before they choose one to give the project to, so be ready to show them your interest and your personal strengths.
- Ever worked with a doctor whom you want to be like when you grow up?
If they’re also involved in research, write them an email! This worked brilliantly for me and I earned not only a supervisor but a great mentor.
- Ask past students.
Interested in an area? Have a look through past BMedSc(Hons) yearbooks for projects that sound like something you’d see yourself doing. Get in touch with us past students — we’d love to help with finding you contacts, whether these be our supervisors or other colleagues we know of.
4. Choose a project
You may have already found your project before you found your supervisor, or perhaps the other way around. If the latter:
- Your supervisor may offer you a project.
This is a great option because the project is likely to be based on prior research, or at least on someone’s extensive knowledge of the literature. So you are guaranteed to be pursuing something relevant. The project is also likely to have some funding attached to it, so that you have the resources necessary for conducting it meaningfully. Just make sure it’s something you’re prepared to spend a year on as well – if the project title puts you to sleep, consider a different project.
- You may bring forward an idea.
This can be a RISKY but HIGHLY REWARDING experience. If you feel strongly about an idea, you could do some research through the literature and identify what appears to be a gap. From there, take your idea to your supervisor and design a project together. The main risk is that you might find yourself researching something that is not completely relevant/not high-yield in advancing knowledge in your area, and you may not have the necessary funding to conduct it. But if you can pull it off, it’s an amazing learning experience that will teach you to become a highly self-sufficient researcher in the future.
It’s also worth considering a few other practical things regarding your potential project:
I could not think of anything worse than a lab project. BUT I know that my lab colleagues couldn’t think anything worse than a health & social sciences project like mine – so we all like different things. Find what you are passionate about, not what your friends think might be interesting.
- Expected workload
As above, it’s a good idea to discuss this with your supervisor. Don’t be afraid to say “I’m just looking for a year off from medicine” – it’s best to know whether your supervisor might be supportive of that, or not.
5. Fill out your application form on time!
This is pretty easy. You don’t need to write much on it and you don’t need to know much about your area yet. Then…
6. You’ve been approved (hopefully)!
Congratulations! Finish your exams and get started on your project in the new year, or beforehand if you want to get a head start (but seriously, take some time off after exams).
A final word
There are MANY ways to do a BMedSci and the experiences that students have is incredibly diverse. If you are considering doing a BMedSci, make sure you speak to as many people as possible to get a broad and diverse perspective. As mentioned, our contact details are available in the yearbook.
Luigi Zolio is a current Year 5D student and previous BMedSc(Hons) student in 2016.