Guide for Mentors & Students

This information is for research-phase fellows and their mentors, including rotation mentors. Please review it carefully. The MSTP Director, Associate Directors, Assistant Director, or your doctoral program representative on the Operating Committee will be pleased to discuss any questions you may have.

Backgrounds of the Fellows

In general they have completed their baccalaureate degrees in the two years prior to entering the MSTP. Some enter during the first two years of medical school or graduate school. They will have had extensive work in the biomedical sciences; they will have had some (usually a lot of) prior research; they will have high GPAs and MCAT scores. They will generally have taken Biological Chemistry 552 during their first year of Medical School. They complete the M1 year and about half of the M2 year, including USMLE Step 1, prior to entering the PhD phase. After USMLE Step 1, they undertake 2 or 3 research rotations before selecting their thesis mentor and PhD program.

Selection of Dissertation Mentors

The fellows are urged to study the research interests of the faculty, their publications and their funding, and to collect all the information, formal and informal, which they can. We assist them as much as possible, including recommendations of a Research Rotation Advisory Committee about possible mentors. The fellows are responsible for contacting the faculty and obtaining permission for participation. The MSTP retains the right of approval.

Restrictions or Conditions Related to MSTP Fellows

The fellows are expected to meet or exceed 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. The specific modifications are determined by the individual doctoral programs/departments, and fellows should check with the doctoral programs/departments of interest for further information. Please note the following additional points:

  1. Candidacy Conditions. MSTP fellows generally achieve candidacy after one year of graduate study. In the usual progression, this means that the fall and winter semesters of MSTP Year III will be spent in registration as pre-candidates.
  2. 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.
  3. Duration of the Combined Curriculum. The majority of fellows will require 8 years of combined training, and this fits with NIH expectations. Since the 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, generally in May-Aug. Planning for this should commence a year in advance including discussion with the MSTP Director.
  4. 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 the discretion and explicit approval of the laboratory advisor or mentor, fellows may take up to two more weeks in the summer 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 Operating Committee and to seek the approval of the MSTP Director. Unapproved absences may place further training grant support in jeopardy.
  5. Clinical Medicine & Research Phase. Opportunities to participate in clinical preceptorships during the Research Phase are available to fellows who want them. Mentors are asked to be supportive of such an interest if the dissertation research is progressing well. A typical time commitment would be one half day per month for one or more semesters during the Research Phase. 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 should submit to the MSTP Office a list of committee members and a brief (not more than one page) synopsis of their planned research. This will be 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. The first committee meeting should be held within six months of achieving candidacy, and thereafter, committee meetings should be held every six months, but no later than nine months. These meetings should be documented by a written report to be forwarded to the MSTP Director. This report may be shared with the Operating Committee. Regularly held committee meetings are important to keep the fellow focused and on track, and to help the fellow address problems efficiently. A prolonged Research Phase makes the transition back to clinical medicine more difficult, and is viewed unfavorably by the NIH.

Suggestions to Mentors for Successful Mentoring

  1. 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.
  2. Meet weekly one-on-one to discuss data, plan experiments, and identify other issues of importance.
  3. 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.
  4. Make sure that your fellow gives a research presentation (at lab meeting, for example) at least once during each semester or rotation.
  5. Let the MSTP office know if you sense that personal or other problems are impeding the fellow’s success.
  6. 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, regardless of the order in which this may occur.

Financial Support

The MSTP pays the stipend and the tuition during medical school. We also support fellows in the third or precandidate year from our NIH training grant (T32). We ask that, during the precandidate year, the mentor or doctoral program supplement our base NIH stipend ($23,376) to the PIBS/MSTP graduate phase level (currently $29,604). The mentor is expected to provide full 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 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.

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 is always good. Get 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 written letter to the MSTP office. The letter should be cosigned by the mentor and 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. Each fall, the MSTP Office will provide the names of those fellows to their Departments/Programs, with the expectation that the MSTP citizenship activities will be taken into account by the fellow’s Department/Program.

Recent Faculty Rotations/Thesis Mentors & MSTP Students

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