Research Distinction Track

Director: Robert Roghair, MD
Coordinator: Deanna Nielson, PhD

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 31 of the M2 year.

Declaration of Participation

Students can indicate their intent to participate in the RDT program as early as after acceptance into 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 generally reviewed as a class cohort (e.g., Class of 2018 applications were reviewed during the summer of 2016). The latest date that a student can apply to the RDT program is May 31 of their second year of medical school.

Application Process

Students submit a basic application that identifies their mentor and outlines the "research activities plan," including specific discreet activities (e.g., lab meetings, conference attendance) and narrative describing the research activities and future RDT-related plans (e.g., specific aims, synopsis of work accomplished to date, plans for future research).

The mentor must write a nomination letter on behalf of the student. The nomination letter is uploaded into the student's portfolio from the mentor's webpage on the RDT website. The student is responsible for contacting the mentor to solicit this letter (PDF iconSample Nomination Letter).

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 on-line. The online portfolio maintains all information already submitted, making it easier to see what remains to be completed. There are two portfolio reviews following acceptance to the RDT, both during the M4 year. Students must update the required information prior to each review.

  1. The pre-MSPE update must be completed by early August prior to approval for RDT mention in the MSPE letter. Acknowledgement of participation in RDT is contained in the MSPE letter contingent upon demonstration of acceptable progress toward manuscript completion and other RDT program requirements as demonstrated in the pre-MSPE review. Comments in the MSPE letter concerning a student’s participation in the RDT will be a description of completed, current, and expected participation and requirements to be completed. The MSPE letter information should be written in conjunction with the student’s mentor.
  2. Final portfolio updates must be completed no later than February 28 for the pre-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

  • The minimum requirement of active research time devoted to a project is 16 weeks*. This can be achieved in several ways:
    • Combination of Pre-M1 and M1 Summer Research Fellowships
    • Combination of Summer Research Fellowship and research elective(s) in the third and/or fourth year of clerkship
    • Year long research fellowship
    • Other combinations pre-approved by the Medical Student Research Council at the time of application
  • The student and mentor must develop a "research activities plan" in which they outline the relevant seminars, research clubs, 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.
  • All students and mentors must fill out an online evaluation of one another once a year after acceptance to the track.

3. Presentation of research

  • 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 Day, 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 Research Day as they do 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 Day and at a regional or national conference. Presentations for departmental or lab meetings will not count toward this requirement.

4. Preparation of a final manuscript

  • The final manuscript must be in the form of a first-author scientific paper formatted in a standardized manner such as: objectives, background, methods, statistical analysis, results, and discussion. This could be a first-author submitted or published article pertaining to research performed in medical school as part of the RDT project (PDF iconSample 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.

6. Submission of a research CV

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

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 iconSample Graduation Nomination Letter). 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.