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Research Distinction Track

Director: Robert Roghair, MD
Coordinator: Erin Mullins, MA

Enriching Your Medical Education

The goal of the Research Distinction Track (RDT) is to encourage students to participate in research in a meaningful and substantial way over their four years of medical school. This exposure to training in scientific thinking should be an experience that will enrich their medical training.

The RDT is designed to allow students to be formally recognized for their participation in on-going research during their time in medical school. This is not considered to be a program in which an additional degree (e.g., Master's) is granted. Recognition for completion of the RDT is noted within the student's MSPE Letter, transcript, and by special acknowledgement during the graduation ceremony. Interested students must complete the RDT application by May deadline of the M2 year.

Students can indicate their intent to participate in the RDT as early as the first year of medical school, although review of applications occurs at the end of the second (M2) year. Students are encouraged to consider this program at the time they are accepted to medical school in order to take full advantage of the opportunity for completing a pre-M1 Summer Research Fellowship. However, participation in a Summer Research Fellowship is not a pre-requisite for the RDT. 

Applications are reviewed as a class cohort (e.g., Class of 2026) during the summer of the M2 (transition to M3) year. The deadline to apply for RDT is May 28th of the M2 year. If you have not completed 10 weeks of full time research at this time, you would still apply as an M2 to maintain eligibility for being accepted at a later date.  

Application Reviews

Portfolios for the Research Distinction Track are reviews three times: 1) prior to initial Acceptance; 2) pre-MSPE -a mid-point between the M3/M4 years; and 3) prior to Graduation. Requirements for each review are imbedded in the details below.

Application Process & Acceptance Review

Students submit an online initial application to create the RDT portfolio. (Please be aware that students may pursue a maximum of 2 distinction tracks) Within this application the student identifies her/his mentor, lists full-time research and presentation(s) after enrollment in medical school, and outlines a "research activities plan." The first plan section offers space to indicate specific discreet activities (e.g., lab meetings, conference attendance) planned to maintain engagement in research while completing core curriculum/clerkship requirements. An open narrative section provides space to describe research activities and future RDT-related plans in more detail (e.g., specific research aims, synopsis of work accomplished to date, plans for future research).

The mentor must write and submit a nomination letter on behalf of the student indicating support for the RDT application and outlining the general research planned. The nomination letter is uploaded into the student's portfolio from the mentor's webpage on the RDT website. The student is responsible for requesting the mentor letter PDF icon Example RDT Nomination letter.pdf

The Medical Student Research Council (MSRC) will review materials from all students who apply for RDT during the summer ending the M2 year. Students are notified of the review outcome by mid-summer and are given the opportunity to remediate any deficiencies in the application prior to a final review decision. Students must be in good academic standing to be accepted into the RDT.

Application Updates

Updates can be made at any time to add publications, presentations, awards, and other pertinent information. Application updates must be done online; the online portfolio maintains all information submitted to date, making it easier to see what remains to be completed. Students must update the required information prior to each review.

  1. Updates must be completed by early August of the M4 year in preparation for the pre-MSPE review. Acknowledgement of participation in RDT will be noted in the MSPE letter, contingent on demonstration of acceptable progress toward completion of RDT requirements. Minimally, this includes submission of a draft first-author manuscript, research CV, and completion or record of planned full-time research and presentations.
  2. Final portfolio updates must be completed no later than February 28 for the graduation review. Any incomplete RDT requirements must be resolved, per notice by the Research Council following graduation review, but in no case later than mid-April in order for RDT to be mentioned in the graduation program.

Completion of Requirements

The following criteria must be met in order to be awarded Graduation with Research Distinction:

1. Identification of a research mentor

  • Students identify a University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine faculty member who is willing to sponsor and supervise their participation in the RDT. Faculty members are not limited in the number of students they can mentor at one time for RDT.
  • The mentor must write a letter of nomination for the student that accompanies the application. Students need to be aware of this requirement and are responsible for informing their mentor. Click here for the nomination letter instructions.
  • Acceptance to RDT is dependent on acceptance of the mentorship plan by the Research Council. If additional mentorship is indicated, the Research Council will pair the student with a more senior mentor in addition to the proposed mentor.

2. Participation in an active research project (minimum 16 weeks full-time with nominating mentor)

  • The minimum requirement is 16 weeks of active, full-time research devoted to a project following enrollment in medical school. This can be achieved in several ways:
    • Combination of Pre-M1 and M1 Summer Research Fellowships (same mentor/project)
    • Combination of Summer Research Fellowship and research elective(s) in the third and/or fourth year of clerkship (same mentor/project)
    • Year long research fellowship
    • Other combinations pre-approved by the Medical Student Research Council
  • The student and mentor must develop a "research activities plan" in which they outline the relevant seminars, grand rounds, conferences, journal clubs, etc. that the student will attend. The student and mentor should meet minimally three times per year to discuss and update the plan. Students should be aware that there are many opportunities to participate in research related activities, such as:
    • meetings specific to the department in which the student/mentor team is working
    • "general research" meetings such as attendance at the MSTP grand round series
    • research conference attendance
  • In addition to the seminars and meetings described above, the student is expected to continue with ongoing research activities such as literature searches, manuscript preparation, additional data collection, etc.

3. Presentations of research (2 minimum)

  • The student is required to present results of their research project on at least two occasions. The possible venues for presentation include Medical Student Research Conference, College of Medicine Research Week, Departmental Research programs, regional or national scientific meetings, etc.
  • Student presentations cannot be of the same nature (oral or poster) for the same general audience within a six-month period of time. In other words, students cannot do the same presentation for Medical Student Research Conference and for an on-campus group within a six-month period of time and count both presentations toward RDT. However, the same data can be presented orally in one presentation and in poster form in another. Additionally, the same presentation can be made in distinctly different venues such as Medical Student Research Conference and at a regional or national professional conference. Presentations for departmental or lab meetings will not count toward this requirement.

4. Submission of a research CV

  • Prior to the pre-MSPE review, the student must submit a Research CV as part of the portfolio review. The CV can be updated prior to final graduation review, if desired.

5. Preparation of a final first-author manuscript

  • The final manuscript must be in the form of a first-author scientific paper, formatted in a standardized manner such as: title page, abstract, introduction, methods, results including tables and/or figures, discussion and references. This should be a first-author submitted or published article pertaining to research performed in medical school as part of the RDT project (PDF iconSample Manuscript) or first-author unpublished manuscript. In the case of an unpublished manuscript, the mentor is expected to have seen and approved the manuscript as representing the student's research contributions. A draft manuscript must be submitted and approved during the pre-MSPE review.
  • The final manuscript is due ahead of the final graduation review. All final unpublished manuscripts must be formatted as for journal submission. Look at the requirements for journals in your research field or check out the guidelines from the ICMJE.

6. Evaluation of mentor/mentee

  • Students and mentors each have links within the online RDT portfolio to an online evaluation. Each student must complete the online evaluation of her/his mentor at least once during the RDT, and a final evaluation prior to the graduation review. Likewise, each mentor must complete the online evaluation of her/his mentee prior to the graduation review.

7. Graduation nomination letter

  • The faculty mentor is required to submit a graduation nomination letter to complete the RDT portfolio. It is the student's responsibility to obtain this letter from the mentor, which should provide an overview of the student's research and include a summary of the student's activities within the RDT during their M3 and M4 years PDF icon Example Grad Letter.pdf. The mentor must upload the letter to the student's portfolio at the RDT website.

8. Final approval by the Medical Student Research Council

  • Students must complete all RDT requirements prior to graduation. Portfolios are reviewed by the Medical Student Research Council (MSRC) in March. Final notification is sent electronically to the student and mentor following the review meeting. Any deficiencies noted must be remediated no later than mid-April for “Graduation with Research Distinction” to be awarded at graduation.