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Student Research
General Information
Specific Programs
M.D. with Thesis
Dean's Prize and Poster Session
Additional Funding Options
Contact Information

General Information Why do Medical Students do Research?

Students have a variety of reasons for doing research while in medical school. Some are primarily looking for intellectual challenge and want to take advantage of the exceptional research opportunities at UCSF, one of the top research institutions in the world. Others want an opportunity to work closely with a faculty member. Still others are thinking about careers in academic medicine. Virtually all medical-school faculty members have active research programs. Regardless of their reasons for choosing research, most students find that the experience gives them new and useful ways of thinking about clinical problems. Although the everyday activities of clinical practice and scientific investigation are very different, excellence in either depends on good problem-solving skills.

You may hear from some students that you "must" do research if you want to apply to a good residency programs. Most UCSF residency directors do not agree. If you want to apply to a competitive program you do need to have a distinguished record. This means earning honors in some of your clerkships as well as having some interest above and beyond your course work. Your application will be strengthened by a productive research experience, that is, one that leads to publishable results on an important question.

When Can a Medical Student Find Time to do Research?

A few medical students manage to do research at while enrolled in the regular curriculum, but most students prefer to schedule blocks of time in which they can do research full time. Medical students may schedule research blocks at three different points in their UCSF careers: in the summer following the first year, during electives in the third or fourth year, and during extra years added for research. Each of these options has its own planning requirements.

The summer between the first and second years of the medical curriculum is not scheduled for required courses. Many students use this two-month period to do small research projects, and some students continue their summer work during the second year. Most students begin planning for a summer project in January of the first year. At that time, the Dean's Office holds a meeting to discuss how to select a sponsor and how to apply for funding. The primary source of names of research sponsors at UCSF is the on-line UCSF Faculty Research Directory. The faculty research profiles are available in the research section. Other sources include the bulletins of UCSF’s graduate programs, the announcement of the AIDS Clinical Research Center, and the annual report of the David Gladstone Institutes. If you need help in selecting a faculty research sponsor or if you want advice on interviewing potential sponsors, you should ask the Directors of Medical Student Research, Dr. Lowenstein (lowenstein@medsch.ucsf.edu), for suggestions.

Students may schedule a block of time in their fourth-year for research. Before interviewing prospective research sponsors, you should also meet with your curriculum advisor to discuss how your research plans will affect your career and to decide on the best time to schedule your research block. If you are not in a Pathway to Discovery, to receive research credit, you will need to complete a Research Approval Form and obtain signatures from the principal investigator, the sponsoring UCSF department, Dr. Daniel Lowenstein, and Dr. Masters. You may apply up to four months of research credit towards your elective time.

If you are accepted into a Pathway to Discovery, you will enroll in IDS 140.20 instead. Please contact your Pathway administrator for instructions on how to apply; you must apply at least three weeks prior to the start of the research period.

Students who are interested in doing research projects that require more than three months may extend their medical school programs. Most students add a one-year block that falls between the second and third years or between the third and fourth years. The third year clerkships must be completed as an uninterrupted block.

How do Research Fellowships affect your Financial Aid?

If you obtain a research fellowship during a year in which you are registered and receiving support from the Financial Aid Office, you must report the fellowship award to the Financial Aid Office, and the award may affect the amount of financial aid support you receive. Each year, the Financial Aid Office establishes a budget for the students in each class, e.g., the current budget for a fourth year medical student is approximately $29,000. If the amount of the research fellowship you are awarded plus the financial aid funding you are receiving exceeds your financial aid eligibility for the year, your financial aid will be reduced accordingly. The reduction in financial aid support will first affect the amount of loan money for which you can apply. The amount of scholarship aid will be reduced only if the total (scholarship plus fellowship) exceeds your financial aid eligibility for the year.

If you are awarded a twelve-month research fellowship, you should discuss the financial aid implications with Dr. Lowenstein (lowenstein@medsch.ucsf.edu) or your Student Financial Aid Advisor in Student Financial Aid Services (476-4181). If you use a twelve-month fellowship entirely within one fiscal year (July 1 through June 30) and if it is less than your financial aid budget, you may be eligible for the difference in the form of loans. If you plan to split your fellowship between two fiscal years and if the monthly stipend from your fellowship is greater than the monthly amount of the financial aid budget, the amount of financial aid support you receive in the months you are not doing research will be reduced because eligibility for financial aid is calculated on the basis of the full year. If your research fellowship pays generously for part of the year, you will get less financial aid for the rest of the year. You may be eligible for more aid if you schedule your entire fellowship within one fiscal year rather than splitting it between two years.

Can Students get Academic Credit for Research?

Yes. To receive academic credit for your research, you must be registered at the time the research is being done and you must list a research course on your study list. Most departments offer a research course (e.g., Surgery 150.01). Students doing research in the summer between the first and second year are not enrolled and therefore do not receive academic credit. You will need to complete a Research Approval Form and obtain signatures from the principal investigator, the sponsoring UCSF department, Dr. Daniel Lowenstein, and Dr. Masters. You may apply up to four months of research credit towards your elective time.

If you are accepted into a Pathway to Discovery, you will enroll in IDS 140.20 instead. Please contact your Pathway administrator for instructions on how to apply; you must apply at least three weeks prior to the start of the research period.

How do Students Report their Research?

Not all research projects yield results within the time that has been allotted; however, students who do obtain results are strongly encouraged to present them to the scientific world. Presentation of results is important for several reasons. First, the process of organizing data for presentation often leads to a better understanding of the significance of the work. In addition, if research results are not publicized, other scientists may undertake the same experiments and thereby unnecessarily increase the cost of doing research.

Research results can be presented as articles published in scientific journals, as oral presentations, or as poster presentations. 

UCSF students are particularly encouraged to participate in several local research events, including the Research Poster Session, the Western Student Medical Research Forum, and the competition for the Dean's Prize for Research. The Research Poster Session is held annually in January. All medical students who are engaged in research are invited to contribute posters, and participation is expected of students who have accepted summer research fellowships from the Student Research and Quarterly Research Committees. The research posters are displayed at a reception hosted by the Dean of the School of Medicine. Students who would like assistance in designing a poster should contact Dr. Lowenstein (lowenstein@medsch.ucsf.edu).

Students who have participated in summer research projects are invited to submit abstracts of their results to the Western Student Medical Research Forum which is held each February in Carmel, California. The Forum is a three-day student research meeting which is held in conjunction with several clinical meetings, including that of the Western Society for Clinical Investigation. Student abstracts may be accepted for presentation at the student meetings or at the concurrent clinical meetings.

Students are also invited to submit abstracts for the Dean's Prize for Research. This competition, which is held in conjunction with the Medical Student Poster Session, is limited to medical students and to first- and second-year students in the Medical Scientist Training Program. The abstracts are judged by the Student Research Committee, and five finalists are selected to make brief oral presentations to the Committee. The winning talks are subsequently presented at a reception hosted by the Dean on the day of the Medical Student Poster Session.

What Ethical Guidelines Govern Research at UCSF?

The ethical guidelines for research at all University of California campuses are summarized in the University Policy on Integrity in Research. This policy applies to all employees and students who engage in research activities. The following paragraphs have been taken from the Policy.

"It is a longstanding policy of the University of California to encourage and maintain the highest standards in research. This Policy reaffirms the University's commitment to integrity in research."

"Integrity in research includes not just the avoidance of wrongdoing, but also the rigor, carefulness, and accountability that are hallmarks of good scholarship. All persons engaged in research at the University are responsible for adhering to the highest standards of intellectual honesty and integrity in research. Faculty and other supervisors of research activities have a responsibility to create an environment which encourages those high standards and integrity in research. Open publication and discussion, emphasis on quality of research, appropriate supervision, maintenance of accurate and detailed research procedures and results, and suitable assignment of credit and responsibility for research and publications are essential for fostering intellectual honesty and integrity in research."

The University regulations and procedures governing ethical behavior for faculty and students are set forth in the Bylaws of the Academic Senate, The University Policy on Faculty Code of Conduct and the Administration of Discipline, and University Policies Applying to Campus Activities, Organizations and Students. If at any time you have any questions or concerns regarding ethical behavior in the conduct of science at UCSF, you should feel free to discuss your concerns with Dr. Lowenstein (lowenstein@medsch.ucsf.edu).

Letters of Support for Research Awards

If you are applying for a research fellowship, the application process will probably include a letter of support from Dr. Lowenstein (lowenstein@medsch.ucsf.edu). To request a letter, you must fill out the Request for a Letter of Support From the Dean and complete the section for research letters. Your request must be submitted to the Office of Curricular Affairs at least three weeks before the fellowship deadline.


Updated: May 11, 2012
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