Research Biographies

I knew I wanted a year off from medical school between M3 and M4 year to do clinically-related research. I was curious about the realm of research in general, having only done some touch-and-go work during undergraduate years and then one summer of work at St. Jude between my M1 and M2 year. The decision to do this was not an easy one, but I did not think I had much to lose. I would finally have the exposure I wanted, help build my CV, and take some time off from medical school in which I could really explore what field of medicine I wanted to enter. Worst case scenario, I did not receive my year off and... I had to graduate on time with all of my friends. I decided to go for it.

Applications for the programs I looked into had early deadlines, starting in October through January, so definitely start looking into these early. I applied to several opportunities ranging from the CDC Epidemiology Fellowship to the NIH Medical Research Scholar's Program. While waiting to hear back from these, I decided I should try to find a project I would be interested in with a current researcher and apply for some grants specifically available for medical students. There were grants available for international projects, like the Fogarty Scholarship, but I wanted a research opportunity at an institution in the US. So I settled upon the NIH Medical Student Research Training Supplement and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Medical Research Fellowship. But now I needed a project.

I decided to think of the fields of medicine I was interested in as well as the cities I would enjoy living in for a year. I literally researched research, looked at new publications, the latest news, and started emailing professors.

I was able to secure a project with Dr. Eugene Chang at the University of Chicago and he, along with my current mentor Dr. Kristina Martinez, assisted me in writing up a proposal. I was awarded the HHMI Medical Research Fellowship with this proposal, allowing me to take a full year dedicated to basic science research to focus on my project and further my limited understanding of medical research today.

So far, my experience has been eye-opening. I have been able to learn numerous lab protocols I only vaguely had exposure to as an undergraduate researcher. I have been allowed to formulate my own experiments and hypothesis, participate in conferences, and have felt like I am truly contributing to the aims of my lab. My experience has not been limited to my specific project, but I participate in several different procedures and protocols in the lab if the project catches my interest. I will be presenting my work in at least one meeting near the end of my fellowship year and possibly another if I generate data in a timely manner.

In the end, I hope to develop an appreciation for basic research as it correlates with medical advances. This year will be a full immersion into an area of medicine I had not previously been exposed to, and I hope this will be a starting point for integrating significant research into my future as a clinician.

Patricia Ojeda
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Medical Research Fellows
University of Chicago Department of Medicine

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