Participation in extracurricular research/scholarly activities is a beneficial and rewarding aspect of medical education. Understanding what constitutes research excellence and enabling physicians, whether they actively engage in research, to appreciate the importance of and recognize good research is critical to the future health of our nation. Throughout all physicians’ careers, they must recognize and employ evidence-based scientific advances to provide the very best available care for the populations they serve.
Participation in research/scholarly activities is essential for the professional development of students, representing an important mechanism for students to witness the challenging processes of scientific discovery and the manner in which subsequent advances in knowledge are translated into advanced medicine and patient care. Understanding and applying good science in one’s practice is critical to the health of our state, our nation, and our world. Participation in research/scholarship activities allows students to develop analytic and critical reasoning skills, and the abilities to study medical literature and appraise the quality of published findings. By acquiring the capacity to keep up to date with scientific discovery, coupled with the clinical perspective, our students will be able to understand health and disease, and to practice true evidence-based patient care and effective management of patients.
At the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, student participation in research and scholarship activities must be consistent with, and documented in, their Individualized Learning Plans (ILP). ILPs fall under the purview of the Office of Student Affairs and Wellbeing. Further, before the student participates in such extracurricular activities, they must be deemed to be in “good academic standing” and not be classified as “at risk.” These important designations are also determined by the Office of Student Affairs and Wellbeing. Once such decisions are made, the information is conveyed to the Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies. As an “honest broker” in this circumstance, the Associate Dean forwards appropriate information regarding student status to the Director of Student Research and Scholarship Programs.
It is the policy of the Office of Research and Graduate Studies that all students of good academic standing – that is, who have earned “passing” grades – are encouraged to pursue a research/scholarship project under the mentorship of an experienced faculty member, scientist, clinician, or community researcher. Ideally, the mentor is a member of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, but can also be an established researcher/leader/faculty member from another institute/research enterprise.
At the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, the undergraduate medical curriculum has three distinguishing phases: Phase 1 with a focus on integrated preclinical science and community-based immersive education; Phase 2 with a focus on clerkships and related training; and Phase 3, the highly individualized and self-directed 4th year, in which students may pursue several scholarly activities – including dual degrees/certificates, research/scholarship, community-based projects, specialty immersion, or entry into residency. In addition, students may elect to accelerate entry into Phase 3 after taking their USMLE Step 1 examination during the clerkship portion (but before the advanced clerkship segment) of Phase 2. It is important to note that although research/scholarship activities conducted during Phase 1 and 2 may serve as an entry point for the work performed in Phase 3 Research Electives, they may not be used to receive academic credit.
How to find research/scholarship opportunities?
The Office of Research and Graduate Studies maintains and makes available a list of researchers and research/scholarship opportunities for student participation. The list contains names and contact information of individuals, and a description of the potentially available research/scholarship projects. Students are encouraged to contact the individuals on the list and ask in detail about possible research/scholarship opportunities and mentorship.
It is essential that students understand the expectations of potential mentors and be clear about their time commitment and intentions. If time is an issue, it is recommended that students investigate clinical, retrospective, and epidemiological studies that have more flexible scheduling requirements. It is further suggested that individual students not become involved in more than one project at any given time to ensure that they do not overly commit their time and effort to the project and potentially interfere with formally scheduled course studies and related activities. Finally, students should discuss the projects with a member of the Office of Student Affairs and Wellbeing and the Director of Student Research and Scholarship Programs to seek further advice and guidance and complete the Individual Student Research form.
The Office of Research and Graduate Studies is committed to helping guide students towards specific research and scholarship opportunities and committed to their success. The Director of Student Research and Scholarship Programs position has been created to facilitate the identification of research opportunities, clarify student and mentor expectations, and monitor overall progress of students and the program. Dr. Zhiyong Han, from the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine Department of Medical Sciences currently serves in this role.
Through the Dean’s Award small grants program, the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine has three types of research funding available for students, administered by the Office of the Dean and the Office of Research and Graduate Studies:
Small grants (up to $5,000 each):
Such funding is available on a competitive basis in the second half of Phase 1 to groups of students (with a priority on interdisciplinary groups), pending satisfactory academic performance in required courses. Students must apply in groups, with a clear explanation as to the roles of all in the research group; interdisciplinary groups receive priority.
Scholarship/research grants (up to $10,000 each):
This funding will be available to students who elect to remain for the fourth year (Phase 3) to conduct research. It will not be restricted to groups of students, although students will be encouraged to collaborate across disciplines and a formal research grant application (modeled on NIH R03 awards) will be required. Grant applications may be submitted at any time.
Travel funds (up to $2,000 each):
Students may apply for partial funding for travel and meetings fees to present research findings from projects in which they served in a leadership role. In addition, students will be strongly encouraged and supported to apply for travel awards from the organizations that host their presentations, and to inquire of their mentors if travel funds are available either through their grants or through their respective departments.
- Students who have successfully completed the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine (SOM) Phase 1 and Phase 2 curriculum are qualified to pursue Phase 3 Research/Scholarship Elective activities. Such endeavors should be consistent with career goals summarized in the students’ Individualized Learning Plan (ILP). In exceptional circumstances, students may be granted permission by the Offices of Student Affairs and Wellbeing and Medical Education, and/or the Dean to conduct Phase 3 research prior to completing prior Phases.
- Students may accelerate entry into Phase 3 after completing the USMLE Step 1 examination and core clerkship portion (but prior to the advanced clinical rotations) of Phase 2.
- Phase 3 research and scholarship at the SOM includes all activities defined under Boyer’s expanded model – including scholarship of discovery, integration, application, and teaching and learning (https://depts.washington.edu/gs630/Spring/Boyer.pdf). Such scholarship must meet specific standards criteria as defined by Glassick.
- Students may engage in research and scholarship activities available to them on the Interprofessional Health Sciences campus, at the Center for Discovery and Innovation, at other locations across the Hackensack Meridian Health system. Students may also pursue research and scholarship opportunities at other institutions in New Jersey, throughout the country, or around the globe, subject to approval of the Dean and the Office of Research and Graduate Studies. Research mentors must be faculty at the SOM or at their home institution. Similar standard criteria as defined herein will apply to students who choose away Research/ Scholarship Electives. Affiliate agreements are required with outside institutions.
- Students who began their research and scholarship activities during Phase 1 and/or Phase 2, but whose projects remain unfinished, may continue their work as a Phase 3 Research/Scholarship Elective. Research/scholarship activities conducted during Phase 1 and/or Phase 2 may serve as an entry point for the work performed in Phase 3 Research/Scholarship Electives, but previously conducted work is not eligible to receive academic credit. Credits allotted to Phase 3 Research/Scholarship Electives, even those derivatives of Phase 1 or Phase 2 projects, will be determined upon vetting of the nature, academic rigor, and time required of the specific elective.
- Students who complete research and scholarship activities during the Phase 1 and/or Phase 2 curriculum, may pursue a Phase 3 Research/Scholarship Elective focused on the preparation and publication/presentation of their data in professional journals and/or at professional conferences. Data analysis, figure/table creation, writing, and related publishing/poster creation activities are recognized as scholarly, and thus, as academic credit-eligible Phase 3 Research/Scholarship Elective endeavors.
- Students are responsible for identifying mentors who are willing to include them in their research/scholarship projects as part of the Phase 3 Research/Scholarship Elective program. The Office of Research and Graduate Studies will assist students in finding appropriate mentors. The project’s goals and specific activities are identified by the mentor and agreed to by the students.
- Overall Phase 3 research and scholarship is overseen by the Director of Student Research and Scholarship in the Office of Research and Graduate Studies. For students who start Phase 3 after completion of Phase 1, the USMLE Step 1 examination, and required clerkships in Phase 2, their research and scholarship activities are also overseen by the Director of Student Research and Scholarship in the Office of Research and Graduate Studies. The Office will keep frequent contact with students to ensure progress and successful completion of their projects.
- The Office of Research and Graduate Studies provides a database that catalogues research and scholarship activities of faculty members and physicians within the Hackensack Meridian Health network. Students are encouraged to use this database to identify mentors. In addition, students can act on their own to find additional research and scholarship advisors. The Office of Research and Graduate Studies will endeavor to keep students informed of all appropriate research and scholarship activities available to them.
- The Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies and the Director of Student Research and Scholarship in the Office of Research and Graduate Studies will provide guidance as to how the research and scholarship activities proposed align with the career goals chronicled in student ILPs.
- Each student may pursue an independent or team-based collaborative project. The student will receive direct guidance regarding his/her project from his/her mentor(s).
- Students engaging in Phase 3 Research/Scholarship are required to take the 2-week Introduction to Research/Scholarship Elective. This credit-bearing elective introduces the fundamentals of research in Week 1, while Week 2 focuses on specific aspects and methodologies of research as they relate to basic science, clinical, translational, community, or medical education perspectives.
- The Phase 3 Research/Scholarship Elective is structured in two- or four-week, credit-bearing blocks. Students may choose a single, or multiple blocks, depending on the nature and complexity of the project. The Office of Research and Graduate Studies will vet all proposed activities to ensure they are of appropriate value to students and meet the necessary criteria for academic rigor.
- Before beginning research and scholarship activities, students are required to provide an outline of the project that includes a brief overview of the work, the aim(s) of the project, the significance/impact of the undertaking, and what role(s) the student will play. Specific templates are provided in the Phase 3 Research/Scholarship Elective Project Agreement and Phase 3 Research/Scholarship Elective Design Guide forms. The project must be approved by the mentor, the Office of Student Affairs and Wellbeing, the Office of Medical Education, and the Office of Research and Graduate Studies prior to commencing work.
- Throughout the project, mentors will confirm student engagement at predetermined intervals, and notify the Office of Research and Graduate Studies regarding any alterations to the student’s activities as defined in the Phase 3 Research/Scholarship Project Agreement.
- After the completion of the students’ research and scholarship project, the overall performance and quality of the work will be formally assessed by project mentors, who will submit official evaluations (using the Mentor Phase 3 Research/Scholarship Elective Project Evaluation Form) to the Director of Student Research and Scholarship Programs.
- Additionally, students will be required to submit a report (using the Phase 3 Student Research/Scholarship Project Report form) to the Director of Student Research and Scholarship Programs. The report should include a detailed accounting of what the student accomplished, what they learned, and the significance of the findings.
- A determination may be made near completion of the project regarding whether the student wishes to extend the work – for example, to assure publication.
- Students’ participation in their research and scholarship projects will be officially documented to ensure academic credit is appropriately awarded after successful completion of the project.