Guide for Mentors & Students

This information is for research phase fellows and their mentors, including rotation mentors.  The MSTP office or your doctoral program representative on the Operating Committee will be pleased to discuss any questions you may have (email the MSTP office at [email protected]).

Background of the Fellows

MSTP fellows generally have had extensive undergraduate research experience, and some will have taken one or two gap years for full time research. If they are pursuing a PhD in the basic biomedical sciences, they will have taken the one semester Rackham course Biological Chemistry 552 during their first year of Medical School. They complete the M1 pre-clinical year and the M2 clinical year prior to entering the PhD phase.

Research Rotations

Although MSTP students can undertake one 4-week research rotation the summer after the M1 year, most elect to have a series of 1-week “preview rotations” in 4 different labs. They attend the lab meeting, read relevant literature, and work alongside a grad student or postdoc in the lab. The goal is to decide if they should do a full research rotation in that lab after the M2 year. One or two (or occasionally three) 4-week research rotations are undertaken after completion of the M2 year, at the time of transition into the PhD phase.

  • Each student has a Research Rotation Advisory Committee that provides advice about potential research mentors. Students must have approval from their RRAC or the MSTP Director prior to undertaking rotations.
  • Rotation mentors fill out an evaluation form and review it with the student at the end of the rotation.

Research rotations are only 4 weeks long.

  • The goal is for the student and mentor to determine whether the lab is a good fit, and we have found 4 weeks is sufficient. 
  • Students are full time in the lab and are not taking courses during these rotations. 
  • Limiting research rotations to 4 weeks allows for increased time for the actual thesis research before the student needs to return to medical school.

Timing of the start of the PhD phase

Students usually complete the full M2 clinical year and take the USMLE Step 1 and 2 exams before transitioning to the PhD phase (social science and humanities students may follow a different time frame).

  • Students usually undertake two 4-week research rotations in February and March of their 3rd year in the MSTP. A third rotation is sometimes taken.
  • Students usually formally join their thesis lab in April. They will be full time in the lab from then until G1 classes begin in September (the start of MSTP year 4).
  • It is important that these students make solid progress in their PhD theses during the ~5 months prior to the start of G1 classes, as this momentum will allow them to be productive in the lab during G1 classes and will greatly facilitate time to degree.
  • See “Financial Support” below for information regarding the mentor's funding obligations to the student.

Restrictions or Conditions Related to MSTP Fellows

The fellows are expected to meet the standards of the doctoral program including the preliminary examinations and the thesis. In general, medical school doctoral programs modify their course requirements for MSTP fellows. Fellows should check with the doctoral programs/departments of interest for further information. Please note the following additional points:

  • Candidacy Conditions. MSTP fellows generally achieve candidacy after one year of graduate study coursework. 
  • Teaching Requirements. A teaching requirement is at the discretion of the doctoral department/program. The educational benefits of a teaching experience should be balanced with the time constraints of the MSTP.
  • Duration of the Combined Curriculum.  The NIH expects MSTP students to complete both degrees in 8 years and most achieve this goal. Since medical school requirements occupy almost 4 years, the constraints on time are real. The thesis must be written and defended (with post-defense corrections completed) before the student returns to the clinical phase. There is some flexibility in terms of when the student can return to the clinical phase. The MSTP office works with the student to begin planning for the return to med school approximately one year prior to the student’s expected return.
  • Vacation, Absences, or Leaves. Fellows are entitled to the standard vacation periods of all students; i.e. University-designated holidays, winter and spring breaks. Additionally, subject to approval by the laboratory advisor or mentor, fellows may take up to two more weeks' vacation when they are supported by MSTP funds. During candidacy and full-time dissertation research, vacation time includes University-designated holidays and up to two weeks of additional time at the discretion of the mentor. Any further vacation time should have the additional approval of the Director, which may be granted without financial support. All requests for Leaves of Absence must be put in writing to be reviewed by the MSTP Director.
  • Clinical Medicine & Research Phase. Student participation in a longitudinal clinical preceptorship is optional during the G2 year and required during G3 and beyond.  The timing is very flexible but should average half a day a month.  If there are significant concerns, we will be pleased to discuss them with the mentor.

Dissertation Committee

In addition to approval by the Department/Program, the Dissertation Committee needs to be approved by the MSTP Operating Committee.

  • Upon forming the Dissertation Committee, each fellow submits to the MSTP Office a list of committee members and a brief (not more than one page) synopsis of their planned research.
  • This is discussed by the Operating Committee, which will either approve the Dissertation Committee or request additions/changes.
  • The dissertation committee is to be formed shortly after achieving candidacy, and thereafter, committee meetings should be held every six months. These meetings should be documented by a written report to be forwarded to the MSTP office. 
  • Regularly held committee meetings are important to keep the fellow focused on and track, and to help the fellow address problems efficiently.

Suggestions to Mentors for Successful Mentoring

  • Clearly state your expectations. How much time do you expect the fellow to spend in the laboratory? When and where are mandatory meetings? Will the fellow be working with a postdoc or a senior technician; if yes, who? Stress the importance of being proactive, asking questions, reading papers, understanding "why" not just "how," and taking ownership of the project.
  • Meet weekly one-on-one to discuss data, plan experiments, and identify other issues of importance.
  • One of the most important responsibilities is to review the primary data with the fellow. Fellows may miss subtleties in the data or may misinterpret the data. Reviewing the primary data is an important educational tool that also lessens the risk of the laboratory publishing unsupported conclusions.
  • Make sure that your fellow gives a research presentation (at lab meeting, for example) at least once during each semester or rotation.
  • Let the MSTP office know if you sense that personal or other problems are impeding the fellow’s success.
  • Be honest when evaluating the fellow. It is difficult to improve if one is not made aware of the areas in need of improvement.

Award of the Degrees

The Ph.D. and the M.D. degrees are awarded after the work toward both is completed.

Financial Support

  • The MSTP pays the stipend, GradCare and tuition during medical school.
  • MSTP supports students in the precandidate year from our NIH T32 training grant We ask that, during the precandidate year, the mentor or doctoral program supplement our base NIH stipend ($26,352/yr) to the PIBS/MSTP level (currently $36,082.50/yr), which comes to $9,730.44/yr or $810.87/month.
  • The mentor/PhD department is expected to provide full financial support during the remainder of the research time including tuition, stipend and GradCare, until the fellow returns to medical school.
  • Please note that any mentor/program supplement to the stipend when the student is on an NIH institutional training grant (T32) or an NIH individual fellowship (F30 or F31) must come from non-federal funds.

Financial expectations may change with time.  Please contact the MSTP office ([email protected]) for specific details.

Other Sources of Financial Support

Although the fellow’s financial support after the precandidacy year is the responsibility of the mentor, we encourage fellows to apply for their own support since writing grants is very educational, and since obtaining independent funding beneficial. Read more information about funding sources.

Travel Support

The MSTP provides limited support for travel to scientific meetings if the fellow is presenting an abstract. The fellow must request this support in advance by emailing a completed Funding Application Form to the MSTP office.  The email should include an itemized list of anticipated expenses. More details are in the Fellows’ Guidebook.

Department/Program Responsibilities of the Fellows

While in the Research Phase, MSTP fellows are full members of their graduate Departments/Programs and are encouraged to participate in the academic and social activities of those Departments/Programs as do other Ph.D. students. MSTP fellows also are expected to participate in citizenship activities of their Departments/Programs. However, many fellows contribute substantial amounts of time to MSTP citizenship activities such as recruiting, and we ask PhD programs to be cognizant of this when seeking volunteers for their activities.

Recent Faculty Rotations/Thesis Mentors & MSTP Students

Download list of recent faculty rotations/thesis mentors and their MSTP students.