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Undergrad Blog
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Gap Year: Kelcie Sztroin

Nov 27, 2017

  • Major: Biology & Spanish
  • Graduation: Juniata College ‘17

I made the choice to take time off between my four years of undergrad and professional school during my freshman year of college. At this time I began planning not only my coursework for the next four years but also my study abroad trip, which would take place during my junior year. I realized that I would not realistically be able to fulfill my desire to study abroad for an entire year and be able to matriculate directly into professional school following undergrad. Because studying abroad for one year was extremely important to me, I decided to take time off in between schooling.

I initially considered many options for during this time, such as: post-bacc programs, research positions, medical scribing and EMT work. However, I ultimately decided to spend my time working in a lab in order to further develop the basic science knowledge that I learned during undergrad. I had previously enjoyed lab work and felt that delving more into the research side of medicine would be most beneficial for me since I am considering the MD/PhD route for my professional education. Therefore, after applying for several research positions, I ultimately accepted a position as a Research Associate with the University of Pittsburgh’s Translational Neuroscience Program.

In just four short months, I have been able to grow both professionally and personally in this position. I have gained knowledge about various lab techniques and their applications in translational science projects. I have learned many new hands-on skills. I have experienced what it is like to be a member of the workforce and no longer be a student, where I no longer complete projects for the sole purpose of receiving a grade. Finally, I have learned to work in a dynamic team made up of people of different ages, educational backgrounds and prior experiences.

Overall, I am very happy with my decision to take this time off from school. It has given me a chance to grow in ways that I could not as a student. I am confident that this opportunity to enhance and expand my skill set will make me both a stronger medical school applicant and physician.

Gap Year: Sam Gary

Nov 27, 2017

  • Major: Biology
  • Minor: Spanish
  • Graduation: Juniata College ‘17
  • Gap Year Position: NIH-IRTA Fellow - Sidransky Lab

Hi folks! My name is Sam Gary. I am an Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Dr. Ellen Sidransky’s neurogenetics laboratory.

I chose to take a year off between undergrad and the start of my MD/PhD training after completing a summer research experience at Washington University in St. Louis. My research experience confirmed my interest in pursuing an MD/PhD and a career as a physician-scientist. I began to plan my final two years of undergrad accordingly. It was important for me to be able to study abroad, continue to develop a seminar series that I founded at Juniata, and to set aside time to study for the MCAT. After studying abroad I gained an appreciation for experiential learning, and before jumping from one academic institution to the next, I wanted to take a year to accrue more research and life experiences. Moreover, I was sorting out some personal health issues, as well as my mother’s health issues, so I felt it necessary to work those problems out before starting my MD/PhD training.

As an aspiring MD/PhD, I knew that I wanted to perform research in my gap year. I chose the IRTA program at NIH because it provided me with a research opportunity that differed significantly from my past research experiences, both in experimental techniques and overall goal of the lab, and the program provided generous resources to assist me in applying to MD/PhD schools. I value the opportunity to diversify my research toolkit and to learn fields of study in which I lack fundamental understanding, so the IRTA program appealed to me.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a physician-scientist, regardless of your training plan, it takes a while to complete. I have found my gap year to be incredibly informative and formative. I believe it is absolutely worth adding one more year to an already lengthy training program. My advice is simply to search for opportunities that afford you flexibility to pursue your research and personal interests, as well as provide you with a support structure to help you achieve your long-term goals.