Choosing a Training Program
When choosing a program be well informed. Decide which route(s) you wish to fully explore. Do your homework thoroughly and look at several programs to be able to select the best one for you. The fit must be right. Know what you want out of the program. Do you suit the program and does the program suit you? Speak to as many trainees as possible to get a consensus opinion. You will find some trainees who are satisfied with everything and some who can see no good in anything in the program. What you need is a balanced view and to get this you need to ask probing questions and try to get specific answers, not general impressions.
Quality of the Program: What is the quality of the institution as a whole? What is the quality of the medical school, the teaching hospitals, the research, and the clinical care and teaching? Speak to as many trainees as possible so that you can obtain several opinions about the program. Try to get a sense of the level of contentment within the Faculty since a happy faculty tends to be much more inclined to create a healthy exciting environment for training and research.
Infrastructure: What is the financial situation and the research infrastructure at the institution as a whole and in the department you plan to train in? Is major equipment readily available? Does your potential supervisor have the infrastructure he/she needs to carry out first class research?
• Is there a clear description of the program available to trainees?
• How well do research and clinical training blend?
• What seminar series and visiting lecturers are organized for trainees and faculty?
• How good is the library and the associated information technology?
• Is there a critical mass of trainees in the program and in the institution as a whole?
• Does the program provide opportunities for formal presentations of research?
• If a graduate program is pursued, is there a strong policy with respect to student advisory committees?
• Does the program have well defined policies on training and graduate education, e.g. ethical conduct in research, intellectual property guidelines, publication policy, invention policy, safety policy, code of behavior on academic matters, graduate supervision policy and guidelines, etc.
Personal Issues: Do not be concerned about discussing salary, benefits, book and travel allowances with potential supervisors and program directors. Discuss holiday time, meeting time, sick time, benefits and health insurance. These are all important issues.
• How is funding arranged?
• Are you expected to apply for competitive internal and/or external funding?
• Does the program have an effective mentorship program and career counseling?
• Are there institutional housing arrangements?
• What is the quality of trainee experience at the hospital, the university and in the community outside the training sites?
• Does the location allow you to have the quality of life you desire?
Living in an attractive environment makes life pleasant for the trainee and the family. Explore housing issues. Involve your family in the decision making. If you have a spouse (partner) and a family, make sure their needs are well met. If the family is not happy, the trainee will have an added burden. A community for the family is important, even if you stay in a location for only a few years. Do you need day care or schools? What university programs are available for partners? Institutions should have dedicated individuals to help with information on available services and relocation issues. If you need to train for two careers, make sure the institution is able and willing to provide for the academic needs of the couple. Institutions are becoming much more aware of this need and should be willing and able to discuss this with you. It is very important to make the training journey fun, so keep this in mind when making your choices.