Choosing a Supervisor:
Medical schools and hospitals differ and you should be very familiar with the philosophy of each of their training programs. How important is research for the faculty as a whole? Does the curriculum facilitate research opportunities during medical school and during residency programs?
Again fit is important, however you are exposed to so many teachers during medical school and residency training that your individual experiences will end up being mixed, some very good and some less so.
The clinical part of the training is provided by numerous clinical staff, often in their own areas of expertise. The program director and the resources available are important in establishing and maintaining a high-quality clinical program. A diverse mix of cases, strong subspecialty expertise with dedicated teachers, and strong opportunities for clinical-pathological correlations are important in establishing the quality of the clinical experience.
The research program is delivered in a very different fashion. The one-on-one relationship is of paramount importance. Choosing a supervisor is a very important task. In most cases, supervisors are not assigned by the program; instead trainees choose from a list of faculty. When choosing a research supervisor, visit the lab and talk to the current trainees. Review the supervisor's CV, especially publications and grants. Personalities are important, so learn about your potential supervisor's personality and make sure it will mesh with yours. The working relationship you have with your supervisor is very important. How does the supervisor run the laboratory?
• How much contact time do you want with your supervisor as you train?
• How often are formal meetings held with supervisors?
• What peer support is there?
• Is there sufficient space and equipment?
• Are journal clubs part of the laboratory activity?
• Are there visiting scientists presenting seminars and interacting with students?
• How does your supervisor regard physician scientist trainees?
• What is the track record of the potential supervisor?
• Do students finish their program in a timely fashion?
• Does the supervisor provide feedback in a timely manner?
• Do students publish first-authored high-quality work?
It is indeed important to have a frank open discussion with a potential supervisor so that your questions are answered and you have the information you need to make a choice.
A true interest in science, especially but not exclusively, in human biology and in patient care are essential for success as a physician scientist. Since the training is arduous, a nurturing, stimulating and supportive environment is essential. Some programs allow you to rotate through a few laboratories before you need to choose a supervisor. This is very useful. Role models and mentors are required to advise and guide, not only during your training but also at the junior faculty level. Despite the strenuous training commitment, the rewards are indeed wonderful. You do interesting and important work. You interact with exceptional individuals and you are at the forefront of medicine and science as you shape the foundations and directions of health care.