Study Tips

Tips for Making the Most of Your Summer Research Time

Jenny Nguyen
Published on Jun 27, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

A summer dedicated to research seems like a luxury to some medical students: how would you take advantage of it? Today on the blog, Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Jenny Nguyen shares her tips for making the most of your research time during the summer months.

As a dual-degree M.D./M.A. Urban Bioethics student, I take a multidisciplinary, holistic view when approaching the inequities of urban communities. This entails looking at the complex structural, ethical, and political factors that impact health in the first place. I often write about the importance of accountability and sustainability, and setting communities up for success. In my own life, sustainable wellness consists of treating myself to something each day, whether it is a run, a snack, or catching up with a friend. Given the demanding schedule of medical school, this varies from minutes to hours. 

During my third year I was given the opportunity to take some time to work on my thesis for my Master’s degree. Having gone through the entirety of my education so far without any breaks aside from summer vacations, which I had spent doing academic things anyways, this was the first time I had a more flexible schedule. I was thrilled to be able to really dive in on a thesis topic dear to me, and ambitious about all of the things I could do in my spare time. Here are some lessons I learned along the way.

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Lesson #1: Invest in yourself

This is probably the most important point: your well-being should always be a priority. You need to be healthy so that you can someday take care of others. Having a healthy body and mind optimizes your ability to osmose everything you need to learn for medical school, so get your eight hours of sleep each night! 

You can also reach new workout goals. I re-watched Pathoma videos when I worked out during dedicated period earlier in the year. That summer, I decided to continue with Osmosis and OME videos during my daily cardio.

I also tried something new. I signed up for group fitness classes including cycling, mixed martial arts, dance, and even video-game-themed HIIT classes. It was invigorating being with different people each class as we worked towards becoming the best possible versions of ourselves. My favorite was kickboxing, which was so fun and empowering, and an activity I can still do by myself at the gym. 

I stopped prioritizing working out each day during pre-clinicals, but since returning to the gym, my energy levels are higher and I really enjoy getting stronger. Best of all, there are affordable and even free options that will fit medical students’ budgets.

Osmosis illustration of a student taking a martial arts class.

Lesson #2: Explore your opportunities

As much as I enjoyed delving into my thesis topic, I could only write for so many hours a day before becoming restless. I missed being in a clinical environment, so I sought out shadowing opportunities. (For now, in light of the pandemic, activities like these are restricted, but I thought I’d include this anyway as we look towards a more normal future.) 

To fill the void while waiting for responses, I watched an entire season of The Good Doctor. I also reviewed some of my favorite topics from medical school. Since I had already taken USMLE® Step 1, that knowledge gave me a newfound appreciation for those topics. An amazing physician in a field I am interested in let me shadow her in her clinic and connected me to others in fields I was curious about. This kept me motivated while I did questions to prepare, and allowed me to explore specialties that I would not have been able to rotate through otherwise. 

While looking for opportunities, I connected with a community health clinic in my neighborhood. Working here was a great opportunity to give back to my underserved neighborhood. It also gave me insight into what it would be like to care for an immigrant and often undocumented community in need

Finally, I tied up loose ends on previous research projects and joined Osmosis as a medical education fellow. I enjoyed using Osmosis to learn medicine, and this was a great opportunity to get involved in research pertaining to medical education, as well as to help improve this resource for future medical students.

Osmosis illustration of a medical student shadowing a clinician.

Lesson #3: Maintain your relationships

Without a strict schedule, I made it a point to spend more time with my loved ones. Whether it was cooking a meal together, exercising together, or exploring a new art exhibit, it was nice being able to take breaks and see people I had previously only caught up with during vacations. Of course, this was pre-COVID, but there are still activities you can do to check in and spend time with friends and family while practicing social distancing.

I spent a lot of time encouraging healthy habits in my own family and giving them the tools to take charge of their health. It is a lot harder to instill these habits through the phone! Aside from family, it was also nice seeing my friends who are not in medical school and being reminded of how other people my age lead their lives.

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Lesson #4: Knock something off your bucket list

Having grown up in New York City, I never needed to drive. Realizing that this is a vital life skill most of my classmates had acquired by their teenage years, I tackled driving lessons. 

I also took this time to indulge myself in things not thesis-related but still related to Urban Bioethics. I co-authored a policy resolution for the AMA, and entered a national policy competition with some friends from college. None of us have ever entered a competition of this sort, but we all hope to someday be involved in advocacy. This was an amazing learning experience and we actually made it to the semifinals! 

Other people probably have more exciting things on their bucket list than learning to drive— skydiving, bungee jumping, meeting Michelle Obama perhaps? Regardless of what is on your list, checking off each thing is empowering.

Medical school is an exhilarating but arduous journey. Whether you plough straight through the fire hydrant of information, or take things at your own pace, be sure to enjoy yourself along the way! 

Osmosis illustration of a medical student heading to class.

About Jenny

Jenny Nguyen is an MD/MA Urban Bioethics student at the Temple University School of Medicine, and a current participant in the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship program. Her interests include bioethics, health equity, minority health, immunobiology, and primary care. From New York City, she enjoys singing, music, food, being active, and seeking out new experiences. 

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