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NIH Postbac IRTA question

priyodapriyoda Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
edited July 2010 in Pre-Med Topics
This website is awesome (and way too addictive).

I'm a recent college grad applying to med schools next June (for 2010 matriculation). I'm looking to do some research, and have an interview for the IRTA program at the NIH. I've searched the threads, and haven't found any details on what it was like to work at the NIH under this fellowship...what were the hours like? Did you have enough free time to prepare well for the MCATs? Did you have enough time to take a course at a nearby university/community college? Do you think it'd be reasonable to ask that the fellowship start in a couple months (after the course is completed) and continue through the following year?

Thanks in advance for any advice.
Post edited by priyoda on

Replies to: NIH Postbac IRTA question

  • bearsayswoofbearsayswoof Registered User Posts: 24 New Member
    Well I'm not a postbac, but I worked as a HS student in a lab at the NIH for over a year, and was friends with and talked to many postbacs. The NIH offers MCAT classes, which makes it pretty convenient to study, although I heard that the class wasn't particularly all that good. Studying for the MCATs was certainly a lot of work for the postbacs I knew, but all of them came to the job expecting to study for the MCATs while working, and they all seemed to be successful. This is just my 2 cents, I'm sure someone who is/was a postbac at the NIH could give a more accurate and personal answer to your questions.

    In general, I highly recommend working at the NIH because you can get so much more experience than you would at another research institution. You can go on rounds and meet patients with extremely rare diseases, and work in labs that are extraordinarily well funded. The Bethesda/DC area is great, and to top it off the NIH is pretty well recognized.
  • norcalguynorcalguy Registered User Posts: 7,548 Senior Member
    1. It's the NIH. Most of the labs are well funded, meaning you get to work with the latest enzymes or tech and you won't have to melt down and reuse your gels just to save 5 cents.

    2. There is a large post-bac community at the NIH full of students in your situation (recent college grads applying to med school or grad school). So, you'll never feel lonely. There are a lot of social events that get posted on the list serve and there's happy hour every week where post-bacs can have a drink together and socialize.

    3. Free health and vision insurance (and the health insurance is pretty good)

    4. There are a lot of courses offered (everything from language courses to lab courses to science courses) through the FAES which you can take on campus. If you have a good PI, you can probably get them to use their grant money to pay for your tuition.

    5. There's a decent about of programing for post-bacs (seminars, poster presentations, conferences, etc.).

    6. DC is a great city.

    7. Although they mention the acceptance rate as being less than 10%, if you are really really proactive, you can get a position. I met a guy who emailed 80 PI's before finding his current position.

    1. Pay is a little low. You can probably make around $33k as a lab tech for a med school.

    2. It's not going to overwhelm med school adcoms. They more or less treat it as just a year of full-time research.

    3. You are not guaranteed to have a positive experience. As with any research experience, you are heavily reliant on your PI. Some PI's are good mentors. Some PI's are not. At our end-of-fellowship debriefing, some students mentioned having extremely positive experiences while others only had so-so experiences.

    4. You are a fellow and not an employee. You have no sick days. So, depending on how generous your PI is, you may have to make up the days you take off for med school interviews. My PI granted me 1 day/month for interviews. I ended up spending around 25 days interviewing.

    Other notes:
    1. Hours are heavily dependent on you and your PI. For some post-bacs, it's just a job. They show up at 9 and go home at 5. I personally worked on most weekends. My PI never insinuated that I had to work on the weekends but I wanted to get the publication out.

    2. There is no official start date for the fellowship. The start date depends on you and your PI. I started in early June right after graduation. The other post-bac in my lab went to Europe first and didn't start till July. You can start it after your MCAT class if you want. Some post-bacs study for the MCAT while working full-time. I don't know how well it went for them.
  • priyodapriyoda Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
    Thank you both for these wonderful responses! I really would love to do more research, and the NIH campus is within walking distance of my home in Bethesda...so I guess it's more a question of what it will be like to work there, rather than whether I should work there at all.

    As for preparing for the MCATs...if I can't come home to study after a long day's work, then I really shouldn't be looking into med school, right? ;0)
  • laxkingcjklaxkingcjk Registered User Posts: 1 New Member
    Hi I have an interview coming up at the end of jan. at the NIH and I was curious if someone could answer a few questions.

    1. Where does the funding come from to pay for the stipends? Is this negotiable? I was reading that they have different levels of experience correlating with pay, what do they consider experience will undergraduate research be considered or is it strictly your professional career?

    2. Is their a large group of Post-Bacs at the NIH? Does it have a young population? Are most of the post-bacs mostly pre-med or are their any that are interested in PhD?

    3. Housing, any roommate site for the NIH? One site directed by the NIH was outrageous in prices!

    4. Are you expected/required to spend ungodly hours at the NIH doing research? I'm asking because i'm curious in taking some grad courses during my stay.

    5. May be a stupid question but I’ve only had experience in academia and industry so would the position at the NIH be similar to what academia or industry?

    6. Any ideas of what I can expect on my interview?

    I'd appreciate any help! Thanks
  • norcalguynorcalguy Registered User Posts: 7,548 Senior Member
    1. Funding is not negotiable. It's $25,000/yr fixed.

    2. Already answered above. There's a good mix of premeds and pre-grad students.

    3. There's a Yahoo list serv called ClubPCR (dorky!) which you can use to find roommates. You're probably looking at b/w $500-700/month.

    4. Answered above.

    5. It would be similar to academia because, well, the NIH is academia.

    6. Typical interview with a PI. A lot of it is them describing their research. They may or may not be interested in your own background. Won't be very stressful.
  • helloimrobertohelloimroberto Registered User Posts: 19 New Member
    Wow. I haven't been here since HS when I was still learning about colleges! Who knew I would have remembered my login info... Interesting to have gone full circle. lol.

    Anyways, for those of you who are getting NIH IRTA interviews (or anyone who knows), have you had extensive research experience? Do you know if they weigh prior bench experience highly? I'm sure they value it, but will they throw my application in the garbage for having not done research before? I currently volunteer for a clinical research project (NIH funded), but it's not really independent or "labby" - I do lots of patient data collection, etc. I'd love to do the program to get more experience actually working with the data and doing the actual research. I'm particularly interested in the NIH Academy health disparities program (similar to IRTA).

    I have a decent GPA (3.62) with Molecular and Cell Biology, and tons of other leadership/volunteer type stuff (does that matter?). Does it help going to a heavy research school? (Berkeley). Any insights/advice would be greatly appreciated!
  • NeuriteNeurite Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
    The NIH IRTA fellowship is about the most even playing-field you are ever going to find in your scientific career. My PI picked me without looking at my transcripts or GRE scores. My interview was him sending me the most recent paper he was working on and asking me what he should do next. The other IRTA he hired before me had phone interview about dogs. She got a second author paper, I'm currentlly working on a first author. If you're a hard sell like me, you'll enjoy talking about having your own project to someone who went to Stanford and is being used as a human RT-PRC machine.
  • LabNerdLabNerd Registered User Posts: 1 New Member
    I am looking into the NIH IRTA program and was wondering if anyone can PM me some names of recommended PIs.

  • avs5146avs5146 Registered User Posts: 3 New Member
    Thanks for all the information! I am looking to apply to the program as well and am also looking for recommended PIs in neuroimmunology or neuroendricrinology with human participants. (I'm currently working in a similar environment and really enjoy it more than solely doing bench work) If anyone has any advice, please message me!
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