Guide for Prospective WISE Students
Visas | Funding | Travel | Checklist | Housing | Labs | Personal Statement
Excellent opportunities exist for WISE students to engage in research in the Boston/Worcester area as a step in career development. This guide presents steps in the process of obtaining such positions. The effort requested in this guide constitutes a practicum in “steppingstone logic” (the philosophy of pragmatism), which leads to being a better doctor and a competent, satisfied individual.
- Robert Humphreys, M.D. Former WISE President
WISE students are very successful in obtaining good research positions and then continuing to fine residencies (in the U.S. or their home country) for two reasons. First, they are exceptionally well qualified by intelligence, academic performance, and personality. Secondly, they already have a good grasp on the issues of logic presented in this guide. WISE students are chosen to be in the top 5-10% of their class by grades and academic awards/other fellowships. They are usually fluent in at least three languages and have studied abroad. They relate very well to others. They adapt to challenges and exploit “steppingstone logic” in all their activities.
Actions in the home country
Your visa through the WISE program is a B-1 visa. It is best to get an initial 6 months approval, and file for the automatic extension to a total of 12 months at least 2 months before the initial period expires. Under the B-1 visa you are prohibited salaried employment, but you are permitted out-of-pocket living expenses. Sponsors handle this in various ways, which can be discussed after your arrival. Work with your sponsor, often by volunteering for some months to prove yourself. Later you might get a J-1 or H1 visa. The two-year-home-return rule is usually enforced for J-1 holders (a major inconvenience if you are seeking further training here). Often at Harvard, the preferred path seems to be H-1 visas, for whatever reasons. Other WISE students seem to have the details. It is best to talk with several after your arrival.
Currently, the strength of the W.I.S.E. program lies in the good reputation its participants have built thus far and in the contacts it has with research departments at medical facilities in Massachusetts, particularly at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. W.I.S.E. has purchased its own building and is able to house participants free of charge. In addition, each participant receives a small stipend of $50 per month. If during the period of your stay another institution assumes responsibility for your scholarship, the stipend and equivalent funding to support your accommodation will be substituted by the funds from that institution. Psychiatry students with Dr. Hanson may have a separate arrangement for a stipend depending upon the schedules of each of you.
W.I.S.E. would like to be able to provide much more support than it can presently, but is unable to do so. Consequently, each participant is expected to provide for his or her own round-trip airfare, local transportation costs, and laundry and food expenses. We encourage each person selected to search for other sources of funding from charitable organizations and private foundations within Europe. Most of the participants in the program have been able to find alternative sources of funding.
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You will be receiving a letter of invitation, which you will need to apply for a visa and to present to customs officials upon entry. While in flight you will complete a white card called an I-94. It will be stapled into your passport when you pass through customs. Do NOT remove this card. Check to make sure that your departure date allows you to fulfill your plans. It is suggested that you photocopy the photo page in your passport, your visa page, and your I-94 in case your passport is lost or stolen. We would be happy to keep these copies in your file. Please let us know your travel plans as soon as possible. Someone will be glad to meet you at the airport.
Here is a short checklist of things to bring with you:
- Personal medication. Make sure to bring prescribed medicine in marked containers.
- Short white coat, if you can. (Medical students wear them in the hospital) but you can also borrow one upon arrival.)
- An international driver's license.
- Towels and toiletries.
- Household devices such as hair dryer, electric razors, etc. are very difficult to use unless you have a converter, which costs about $10. (The voltage for electrical appliance used in the U.S. is between 110-120V.)
- Appropriate clothes for the hospital (men: shirt and tie, no jeans; women: professional yet casual skirts, slacks).
All participants are required to have health insurance. It is most economical to purchase this insurance outside the United States.
Make sure that you have received all necessary vaccines and have had your verification officially stamped. You will need documentation of immunity to measles, mumps, rubella, documentation of tetanus-diphtheria booster within the last ten years, and documentation of the results of a recent T.B. (tuberculosis) test.
Actions upon arriving in Massachusetts
Accommodations are provided in Acton, MA at a house owned and managed by W.I.S.E. Current and former W.I.S.E. participants, as well as young professionals from around the United States and the world, share accommodations.
Accommodations for students in the psychiatry program is provided part of the time by Dr. Hanson at his home in Orono, Maine where he shares his home with students attending the University of Maine, and part of the time at the home of Eric Ranvig and Dr. Hanson in Acton, MA.
You are expected to maintain your own room and to share responsibilities in basic housekeeping. Please be advised that it is often necessary for two participants to share a room. You are expected to assist with WISE projects and housing maintenance for about four hours per week. About twice a month on weekends participants share in a community dinner and are asked to help in food preparation. Participants are encouraged to invite colleagues and mentors to come for dinner.
Visiting target labs and judging mentors
Go to the websites of Harvard Medical School, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and McLean Hospital to identify researchers in your area of interest. Make a long list, including even areas of distant relationship to your future. Get the map/floor plan and identify exactly where the room, phone, fax, email is for each target.
Conduct a MedLine search (www.pubmed.com) for papers of target mentors. Although you can discuss this list of target mentors with other WISE students and Dr. Hanson, you will ultimately decide yourself. There are different theories for what type of lab to seek. Some favor working with junior faculty members, so you get to talk with your mentor. Others favor large labs with a pyramidal structure: the Professor, Assistant Professors, fellows, graduate students, technicians and you. In that situation, you ideally want to talk with the fellow under whose direct guidance you are to be placed. Such a person can be a phenomenally good teacher and friend for life. Others, not so. If you do very well in a big lab, the power (money, network, influence) of the Professor will come to support you, nicely.
Some WISE students in Boston have been promoted to semi-permanent Fellow positions on 3-year, renewable H-1 visas, with significant salaries. In any event, you need to hunt for 6-15 days after arrival, being very alert and watchful for opportunities and pitfalls. Enough said. Most WISE students have done very well in this search. If you receive multiple offers, after you seal the deal with one, go thank the others for the offer that you decline.
Generally it is not necessary to write to prospective mentors prior to arriving in the U.S. Pick a date after your arrival; then armed with a complete attack list of target mentors, knock on doors, leaving your “package” [CV, personal statement, letters of reference, transcripts] and asking for interviews. Plan a return visit (for example 3 days later) for interviewing or inquiring again of nonresponders. WISE students execute this part of the hunting game well.
Mentors seek students with fine “steppingstone” thought processes. All of us know pieces, or even large segments of deductive logic. But mentors are searching among WISE applicants, for those with the most extensive use of deductive logic or pragmatic thinking. That is, one starts with an ultimate goal, in life, or for a patient’s well being given some significant disease. One works backward to identify possible steps of achievement toward that goal. In this “steppingstone logic,” given two choices of what to do tomorrow, the preferred choice is that which best positions one for the effort of a later day.
Steps, which can be jumped over or leap-frogged, are not to be pursued, shortening the time to the final goal. Strange as it might seem, physicians and professors vary in their ability to apply this pragmatic philosophy (the choice for effort is decided by its relevance toward a more distant, well thought out goal). The greatest physicians and professors best use this method of logic. The mentor interviewing a WISE student looks for it in the student's ideas and personal statement. Best plan is to sort out yourself what is being sought in you, by looking for it in the most accomplished of peers, and by articulating your own logical system for decision-making. The most successful WISE students are skilled at applying both inductive and deductive logic, simultaneously.
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The personal statement projects in writing the personality, intelligence, motivation, and track record of the WISE student in a manner that makes the reader want to interview the student. A wide variety of styles in personal statements have been successful, often because they are written with a stellar quality by authors who have sparkling personalities.
The personal statement often starts with a summary paragraph of 2-3 sentences, telling the entire story. In order to eventually become an outstanding physician in some specified area, the student seeks a year’s experience in research to learn the logic and method to conduct fine research. Potential mentors are reading the statements more for their projected logic and patterns of thought than for details of specific tests or surgical operations performed. The rest of the statement elaborates on future goals and shows how past and present efforts are steppingstones to that end. Often these concepts are woven into historical stories. The mentors want to understand whys more than the whats.
The most important value of the personal statement is what the reader deduces about the character of the student though the presented ideas, story telling, and accomplishments. Numerical facts are in the curriculum vita. Here write vignettes of experiences from which deductions can be made about intelligence, work ethic, ingenuity, resourcefulness, relationships with others, and sense of duty to ideals, patients, family and self. One can’t say “I am clever”, but one can tell a story from which the reader deduces cleverness and many other personality characteristics. The personal statement should be one page, single-spaced. More is often less.
Upon repeating this search process for a later residency or fellowship, the quality of your writing will be carefully judged. Most newly arrived WISE students do not understand the concepts of topic sentences, paragraphing, and clincher sentences. Might as well learn now. All really great medical writers use this system in their papers, grants, essays, and letters of reference. The topic sentence is the first sentence of a paragraph that expresses succinctly the concepts of the paragraph. The sentences which follow in the paragraph explain in more detail the concept of the topic sentence. There are no major new ideas unrelated to the topic sentence, which are introduced later in that paragraph. Any major new idea becomes the topic sentence of a new paragraph.
When the essay is done, one could cover with a hand or mentally erase everything except the topic sentences, which remain to summarize the entire essay. Ideally, there is also a topical first paragraph of 2-3 sentences outlining the entire essay. Often there is a clincher sentence at the end of the last paragraph, emphasizing the “take home” message of the essay. Clincher sentences can be used occasionally to end selected paragraphs in the essay. It’s a lot of work to impose this discipline on one’s writings, but having done so, you’ll discover a few of the great clinicians use the same technique, with great effect. In a future round of searching a new position, your writings will be used to judge your patterns of logic. Now in the WISE program, those judgments are based upon how you verbally express your goals and personality.
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