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About Mack A. Michell-Robinson

Mack A. Michell-Robinson is a third-year MD-PhD student at McGill University. His PhD research is in the field of neurology, focusing on developing experimental models of a rare disease of the central nervous system, along with gene therapies to treat it. Prior to medical school, Mack completed both bachelor and master of science degrees at McGill University, and worked as an associate scientist at a Fortune 500 biotechnology company.


This chapter and Chapter 7 (“The Application Process and the Interviews”) complement one another, and both contain important advice that contribute to creating the best final application possible, divided loosely according to the typical chronological order. In this chapter, we’ll consider the building blocks of successful applications as you assemble them in the last few months before you plan to apply. An MD-PhD application is essentially an MD application with a specific research focus. Therefore, this chapter necessarily covers the building blocks of the MD application from the perspective of what an MD-PhD committee will be looking for. Specifically, we will cover the basics of admissions, standardized testing, grades, how to build research experiences and communicate research potential, publications and presentations, volunteering and humanitarianism, work experiences, extracurricular involvement, and writing essays, statements, and narratives with a focus on writing research statements. It is recommended that you reread Chapter 2 (“Choosing the Right MD-PhD Program for You”) and have schools in mind while building your application so that you know where to concentrate your time and effort. Each application is unique to the applicant; this chapter will describe what you’ll be expected to include to be considered competitive, with specific insights for MD-PhD aspirants.


  • Deadlines, especially for expiration of standardized tests like the MCAT, vary by institution. Make a spreadsheet of important deadlines and set calendar reminders!

  • Academic excellence, especially grades, is the most important part of the medical school admissions process. Meanwhile, showing your commitment to research is the most important part of the PhD admissions process.

  • Jobs, extracurricular activities, and volunteering provide necessary life experiences that make you a more interesting candidate (and hopefully a more interesting person!).

  • When writing your personal statement, keep it simple, authentic, and reflective. Ask yourself: “How can I have the greatest impact, and why do I want to?”

  • When writing your research statement, stay on message, and focus on the impact of your work. Answer the question: “Why is this important?”

Admissions Basics

Using guidelines to write an application

When assembling an application, it is essential to read the admissions handbook, the guidelines, or any other published admissions materials (statistics, etc.) for the program you’re applying to. Sometimes, they’ll have different names, but they can usually be found on a corresponding MD program’s website. This is critical to the application-building process, because ...

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