Student research and scholarship FAQ
Why should I pursue research and scholarship activities? Should I only seek out research projects if I have aspirations to go into academic medicine or a competitive medical specialty?
Of course not. Research and scholarship participation is not meant to solely check a box (e.g. a publication for your residency application). Research and scholarship participation affords you with critical analytical, communication, and problem solving skills; offers scientific education and enrichment; helps develop longitudinal relationship with clinical and basic science mentors; and cultivates scholastic maturation and career success. Beyond all of this, yes, it may very well also enhance your residency candidacy and competitiveness.
When is the best time to start undertaking research and scholarship projects, and is it ever too late?
- There is no optimal time to initiate research and scholarship projects. The decision about when to get involved is individualized to each student, based on interest, ongoing commitments, and opportunity.
- Early research exposure does have potential benefits, in that it provides more lead time to learn about a medical specialty, allows for more longitudinal projects, and facilitates long-term cultivation of personal relationships with mentors. That said, students approaching research involvement later in their medical school career may have more experience to guide specialty and mentor selection, and may also have more overall context for the work they are pursuing.
- If you start research later in your medical school career, do not feel as though you missed the research boat if you did not start during M1 summer, but at the same time, please have realistic expectations about what can be accomplished during a short time period (e.g., do not expect to necessarily publish a paper during a 1-month M4 research experience).
- All UIC investigators and research personnel are required to complete specific trainings and certifications prior to performing research. If you are considering involvement in:
- Clinical research: complete Institutional Review Board (IRB) training.
- Animal based research: complete Animal Care & Use Committee (ACC) training and animal facility orientation.
- Basic science or benchtop research: complete lab safety training.
- Please visit the UIC Environmental Health & Safety Office website.
- Not yet. Institutional IRB or ACCC approval is required prior to undertaking clinical and animal based research, respectively.
- Faculty mentors are generally responsible for obtaining research approvals, but participating in the process of submitting an IRB or ACC application can be a very educational experience for students participating in research. Ask your mentor if you can help with approvals in any way.
- As a last tip, if you plan to pursue clinical research, contact the department of your research mentor in order to have an Access Request Form submitted to request Electronic Health Record access (but only after completing human subjects research training and online Electronic Health Record training, which will be prompted by the access request submission).
- Peruse the UIC College of Medicine academic department website to identify subjects and faculty mentors who work on specific subjects that you may be interested in.
- Individual faculty pages—often accessible through individual department websites—will often provide information about faculty publications and grants; similar information can be found through PubMed and Google Scholar.
- Visit the UIC College of Medicine Scholarly and Research Opportunities page, and peruse the Searchable Research Project Database to identify specific projects.
- Contact the listed faculty research contact for your department of interest, as listed on the UIC College of Medicine Scholarly and Research Opportunities page.
- Ask other students for advice and guidance on mentors that they have work with or are familiar with.
- Consider the fact that any research and scholarship experience is better than none, as working on a research and scholarship project—regardless of the subject matter—can help develop important skills and competencies.
- If a department does not have a project at the time you inquire, consider following up with other departments (e.g. consider working in a basic science department). The skills you learn and experience you gain in one area can often translate into others. Circle back with the original department at a later date.
When finding a faculty mentor, do I have to come up with my own research idea or am I given a project that's already in progress?
Depending on your faculty mentor, it can go either way and that there are pros and cons to both. From a student perspective, you do not need to come into a meeting with a faculty mentor with a detailed project proposal. Rather, try to identify a broad area of interest, and find a faculty mentor that is working on something you are interested in. Generally, faculty mentors will help guide you toward interesting project if you have a sense of an area that you would like to pursue. At minimum, there can be a conversation about project development so that you work on something that suits both your own interests as well as your faculty mentor’s.
Not really. Faculty mentorship is important. In academic medicine, having a faculty mentor for guidance can mean the difference between success and failure. Faculty mentors have the experience and knowhow to provide critical guidance, direction, and oversight on everything from regulatory assurances, patient interactions, data procurement, results analysis, meeting presentation, manuscript presentation, grant writing, and research ethics. Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know, but your faculty mentor might, and as such can help you avoid pitfalls and traps that you may have otherwise not steered clear of. For this reason, students are expected to connect with faculty mentors when pursuing research and scholarship.
- Consider directly reaching out to mentors who work on specific subjects that you are interested in. Even without a previous connection, such contact is generally positively received.
- Generally, the preferred initially contact method is e-mail. Faculty mentors are busy, so do not be discouraged if you do not get an immediate response; a response e-mail within 72-96 hours is very appropriate. If you do not hear back within 1 week, consider sending a gentle reminder e-mail.
- Compose and provide a CV that includes previous experiences and research skills in order to make yourself marketable.
- Provide an introduction to yourself and your interests. Expressing the goals and objectives you have and what skills you want to develop in undertaking research and scholarship work is very important.
- Research is not a box to check or hoop to jump through. To make it meaningful, it should be considered educational. Think about being involved in research and scholarship as a process to acquire skills that will be valuable as you develop your medical career.
- Research and scholarship may span a variety of work, including literature reviews, data collection from patients, study recruitment, data entry, chart reviews, abstract and manuscript preparation, and basic data analysis.
- Research and scholarship is a process. Research is not just the output of a paper, poster, or presentation. Writing an IRB application, creating a database, data entry, running a lab assay, consenting a patient, titrating a chemical, etc. are all important skills to be learned.
- Do not come in with the firm expectation that you will get your name on a publication. Academic productivity, like a paper, is more likely with continued participation over time.
- It reasonable to expect setbacks, but recognize that obstacles can be overcome. Sometimes a designed experiment or project does not go in the direction predicted, and it can be puzzling and frustrating. This underscores the importance of getting involved in a project that is stimulating to you, because your interest is the drive to help carry through the hardships.
- Mentorship and learning comes in many forms, and is often team based. You should expect to not only learn from faculty mentors, but potentially also research team members, such as research associates, post-doctoral associates, graduate students, residents, and other personnel.
- Be respectful of your faculty mentor and their time, as they have multiple obligations. Research and scholarship may only be a part of their responsibility, in addition to clinical care, service, and educational obligations.
- Follow the research protocols and directions of your faculty mentor and research team.
- Be punctual for meetings, for example with your faculty mentor or lab meeting. Be prepared to provide updates on your work. Be respectful of all the study members’ time.
- Indicate your availability and realistically assess time commitment, and do not over commit. Also, be upfront about ongoing commitments and your capabilities in regards to balancing workload and deliverables. Transparency about what you can and cannot do will ensure aligned expectations, and will help avoid frustration.
- If you find you are no longer interested in the project or medical specialty, do not abruptly cease all communication. It is more respectful to communicate to your faculty mentor and research team honestly, and either complete the work or hand off to another student or research team member.
- There are many formal internal and external research and scholarship programs available to UIC medical students. See the UIC College of Medicine Scholarly and Research Opportunities page for more information about these programs.
- Internal programs are listed below:
- Craig Medical Student Summer Research Fellowship
- James Scholar program.
- Special Curricular programs.
- Joint Degree programs.
- Phase 2/3 (M3/M4) research/scholarship self-designed electives.
- Mentors program.
- Regarding external programs:
- Check out the Featured Programs on the UIC College of Medicine Scholarly and Research Opportunities page.
- Also consider checking BlackBoard for listed opportunities.
- Finally, peruse medical specialty specific websites (for example, the Society of Interventional Radiology) for student opportunities.
Where can I find funding for my research project or other needs, for example funding for meeting travel?
- Faculty mentors may be able to provide funding for research, and may help support the costs of meeting travel and manuscript publication. Ask your mentor if they can help in any way.
- The UIC Health Professions Student Council offers both project and travel grants.
The UI Webstore offers purchase of relevant software, spanning reference management, statistical analysis, and graphics programs that are useful in supporting research and scholarship. Discounted rates are available to UIC affiliated persons.
- Manage your references using RefWorks, EndNote, or Zotero, available via the UI Webstore.
- The UIC Library has a good description of citation management methods available at UIC. They can be helpful in collecting, organizing, citing, and sharing research sources.
- The UI Webstore offers purchase of relevant statistical software, such as SAS and SPSS. Microsoft Excel can be used for simple statistical analyses.
- The UIC Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) is available to students and trainees as a resource to answer questions. However, CCTS consultations are not intended to replace the role of an advisor or classroom instruction. If you have a question on your research project, you can request a one-hour free consultation by registering as a CCTS user and submitting a service request through their online workflow system. If you require assistance beyond the first hour, certain fees may apply.
When performing clinical research, are there any useful platforms for entering and storing data, including protected health information (PHI), at UIC?
- REDCap is a secure, web-based application for building and managing online surveys and databases.
- UIC Box, supported by the ACCC, offers PHI compliant cloud based data storage options.
- Personal computers, hard drives, and flash drives should not be used for storing PHI. PHI should only be stored on university-owned encrypted computers. Have your IT support person check machines to determine whether they are encrypted or not. For clinicians working at UI Health workstations, the default option typically is to store the data in the hospital-approved drive.
- To share PHI with colleagues, use “send secure” on the hospital exchange e-mail to share files. No other medium of sharing is currently permissible. Do not use Dropbox, Gmail, or any other non-university systems to store or share PHI.
- The UIC Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) offers essential services and resources for investigators at all stages of the translational spectrum, including biomedical informatics support, biostatistical consulting, recruitment and retention assistance, community engagement, implementation science, and research navigation.
- The UIC Research Resources Center (RRC) maintains and supports high-technology scientific equipment for use by research faculty and staff through many its many core sections.
A literature search is more than a quick Google or PubMed search. Check out the UIC Library resources.
There are guidelines available for the most commonly used study designs in health-related research. These guidelines specify the minimum information that should be included in a research report to allow readers to assess the study and use its findings.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to Henar Cuervo Grajal Ph.D., Ben Gerber M.D. M.P.H., Sara Heinert M.P.H., and Heather Weinreich M.D, as well as Russell Simpson, and Yifan Wang, for their contributions and input to the above content.