Scholarly Research Project Manual

Project Manual

Scholarly Research Project Welcome!
Welcome to the Scholarly Research Project website! Please consider this site as your first point of contact for all items related to your Scholarly Research Project. As you navigate through the various tabs, you will learn what exactly constitutes a Scholarly Research Project, what are keys for a successful project, what are the steps for successful completion of your Project, and what are the pitfalls to avoid during your research time. You will also find information regarding upcoming events, as well as news and up-to-date information regarding deadlines and items of interest. On behalf of the Scholarly Research Project leadership team, we now invite you to check this website frequently, to take advantage of all the information that it offers, and most importantly, to have a wonderful educational experience within your Scholarly Research Project.

Best wishes,

Don DeFranco, Ph.D. (412-624-4259)
Gwen Sowa M.D., Ph.D. (648-1091)                                                                           Brad Dicianno, M.D. (412-648-6138)                                                                           Judy Chang, M.D., MPH (412-641-1133)                                                                    Molly Conroy, M.D., MPH (412-383-1650)
John Fowler, M.D. (412-605-3264)                                                                       Rebecca Hughey, Ph.D. (412-383-8949)
Who is on the Scholarly Research Project team?

Donald B. DeFranco, Ph.D. Donald B. DeFranco, Ph.D.
Professor & Vice Chair of Medical Education
Associate Dean for Medical Student Research
Director, Dean’s Summer Research Project
Department of Pharmacology & Chemical Biology
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Pittsburgh
Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases
7041 Biomedical Science Tower 3
3501 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
tel: 412-624-4259
fax: 412-648-7029
 Gwen Sowa, M.D., Ph.D. Gwen Sowa, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Medical Student Research
Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Co-Director Ferguson Laboratory for Orthopaedic Research, Department of Orthopaedics
202 Kaufmann Bldg.
 Judy Chang, M.D., MPH Judy Chang, M.D., MPH
Assistant Dean for Medical Student Research
Associate Professor
Departments of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and Internal Medicine
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC
3380 Boulevard of the Allies
Suite 309
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
 Molly Conroy, M.D. Molly Conroy, M.D.
Assistant Dean for Medical Student Research
Assistant Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology
Center for Research on Health Care 230 McKee Place, Suite 600
 Rebecca P. Hughey, Ph.D. Rebecca P. Hughey, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean for Medical Student Research
Professor of Medicine, Renal-Electrolyte Division
Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Professor of Cell Biology
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
S-933 Scaife Hall








Brad Dicianno, M.D.
Assistant Dean for Medical Student Research
Associate Professor                                                                  Medical Director, UPMC Center for Assistive Technology
Director, UPMC Adult Spina Bifida                                          Medical Director and COO, Human Engineering and Research Laboratories
Director of Medical Education,                                                       Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
201 Kaufmann Bldg.

John Fowler, M.D.
Assistant Dean for Medical Student Research
Assistant Professor                                                                  Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
Director, Hand and Upper Extremity Fellowship
911 Kaufmann Bldg.

 Suzann Beardsley Suzann Beardsley
Medical Student Research Administrator
533 Scaife Hall
Pamela Harlow
Medical Student Research Support
533 Scaife Hall

What constitutes a successful Scholarly Research Project?

A successful Scholarly Research Project generally has three components:

  1. A pretty good idea. Specifically, an idea that involves a testable hypothesis around a topic of interest to doctors and their patients.
  2. An interested student. Specifically, a highly motivated student who is interested in the topic at hand.
  3. An interested mentor. The best projects for students are those that are already in existence in the mentor’s research portfolio, and for which a “carve-out” can be created for the individual student. This approach ensures that the mentor will be as interested in seeing the project completed as the student will.

Steps for a Successful Completion

The basics:

  1. Complete an approved scholarly research project by the deadlines.
  2. Complete the quarterly reports on time, and show satisfactory progress.
  3. Complete the final report on time, February 15 of fourth year.
  4. For additional information, see Satisfactory Progress Policy, included in this manual.

Student and mentor step by step

Not sure what you need to be doing for the Scholarly Research Project proposal or how to use the student project website to complete the approval process? Follow the instructions below to complete your proposal.
Student instructions:

  1. Login to Navigator and click the “Portfolios” tab
  2. Click on your name under the “Scholarly Research Project” header.
  3. Click “Edit Project Title and Mentor”in Project Title area.
  4. Fill out form, select your mentor, and click “Submit”
    • If your mentor is not on the list, select “Click here if your mentor does not appear on the list above”
    • If you’re unsure of the overseeing program, select “SRP (Unaffiliated)”.
  5. Click “Edit Ethical Status information”link under “Project Ethical Status”.
    • Fill out form and click “Submit”
  6. Click “Project Proposal”link on left side.
  7. Click “Add new document”under “Project Proposal Documents”.
  8. Click “Browse”and locate your project proposal Word or PDF document.
    • Follow the instructions for the project proposal on SRP program site.
  9. Click “Save and close”near top left to upload document.
  10. Click “Submit”button to left of “Mentor approval” action under “Project Proposal Actions” to send approval request to your mentor.
  11. If proposal returned, respond to mentor / SRP director comments posted in Discussion section.

Mentor instructions:

  1. Guide your student during the proposal development.
  2. Wait until you receive a proposal approval email request from the system.
  3. Click the link in the email:
    • Cut and paste the link into your browser address bar if not “clickable”.
  4. Log into your student’s site using your Pitt username and password.
  5. Open and review the proposal document under “Project Proposal Documents”.
  6. If proposal is acceptable (see criteria for evaluation of proposals), click “Approve”button to the left of “Mentor approval” action under “Project Proposal Actions”.
  7. If proposal needs revision, click “Return”button to the left of “Mentor approval” action under “Project Proposal Actions”.
    • Click “New Discussion”under “Discussion” area to post your feedback.

Questions / Problems:

If you cannot remember your username or password, please contact the HELP Desk (4-4357) If you have questions about the Scholarly Research Project, please contact Suzann Beardsley, Scholarly Research Project Administrator or 412-648-9639.

Mentors Guide

Thank you for your interest in the Scholarly Research Project, a vital research and educational component of the medical school curriculum and a requirement for graduation for our students. The Scholarly Research Project is conducted by the student under your guidance, and is formulated in conjunction with you. The Scholarly Research Project directors provide oversight for the individual projects, and will offer guidance regarding the students’ successful completion of the project.

Please keep in mind the following when designing a Scholarly Research Project with your student:

  1. Each student will have a different degree of familiarity with research. The best project is one in which the student can learn the required techniques relatively easily, so that most of the time can be spent on data generation and analysis.
  2. The best project for a student is one that already exists in some form within your research portfolio, and for which a modification of some form can be created for the student. This approach maximizes your “Buy-in” of the project, and makes it more likely that funding as well as ethical approval are available.
  3. Scholarly Project students are not Graduate Students. They are medical students that are performing their research projects. Because they will be spending so much time completing their medical school requirements, they will have varying amounts of time available to spend on their projects, which will be determined by where they are in the academic calendar. However, their high commitment to the project, and to you as their mentor, should not decrease, and so you should expect ongoing (at least monthly) communication in person and electronically throughout the course of the project.
  4. Scholarly Research Project students are researchers. They are expected to devote time and energy to their projects, and, ideally, to be part of a published manuscript of some sort at its completion. However, publication is not a requirement for successful completion of the SRP. In the absence of a published paper, as part of their SRP Final Report students will be required to submit a manuscript that summarizes their results.

Scholarly Research Project Proposal Evaluation Criteria

To submit your proposal onto your SRP Portfolio on Navigator, you will need to identify the mentor. You will then upload the research proposal, which is to be authored by yourself and in your own words. The application must be reviewed with your mentor prior to submission.

The project proposal, which constitutes the application, must contain the following sections with the indicated headings:

  1. Title:This includes the project title, student name, and name(s) and department affiliation(s) of the mentor(s).
  2. Hypothesis:A statement of the hypothesis/hypotheses to be tested and major aim(s) to be addressed. If a hypothesis is not appropriate because qualitative methods are employed in this project, please provide justification and clearly state the research question that will be addressed.
  3. Background:A brief summary of pertinent background information including selected literature citations. The section should make clear the rationale for the hypothesis. (Sections 2 & 3 may be reversed in order.)
  4. Methodology:A description of the methods to be employed, materials to be utilized, and plan for data analysis. This section should be sufficiently thorough and detailed to allow a reviewer to assess the rigor and feasibility of the project and demonstrate how you will test your hypothesis. If the project is a continuation of summer work, state what was accomplished last summer and what will be done during the next two years.
  5. Significance:A brief statement of the expected significance of the study.
  6. Role of student:Clearly state the student’s roles and responsibilities in the project. If a student is to be incorporated into a larger project, state how the student’s role may overlap with, and be differentiated from, that of others on the project.
  7. Ethical Approval:You must provide information on ethical approval for your project. Please state if your project has IRB, IACUC, CORID or QA/QI approval, if you plan on applying for approval or exemption, or if your study does not involve animal or human subjects. It is not necessary to have agency approval at the time the SRP proposal is submitted, but you must specify your intentions and a timeline for seeking agency approval. An application for ethical approval must be submitted prior to the July 1st quarterly report in order to demonstrate satisfactory progress. Additional information can be found in the FAQ for the SRP in question 9 (What do I need to know about ethical status…?).
  8. References:A small number (< 5) of critical references usually suffices.

The proposal is limited to 2 single-spaced pages, including references. Use 10 or 12 point font and 1″ margins on all sides.

Proposals that do not conform to the above instructions may be returned, without approval, for revision.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact one of the Scholarly Research Project Directors:

  1. Don DeFranco, Ph.D. (412-624-4259)
  2. Gwen Sowa., Ph.D. (412- 648-1091)
  3. Judy Chang, M.D., MPH (412-641-1133)
  4. Molly Conroy, M.D., MPH (412-383-1650)
  5. Brad Dicianno, M.D. (412-648-6138)
  6. John Fowler, M.D. (412-605-3264)
  7. Rebecca Hughey, Ph.D. (412-383-8949)

Scholarly Research Project proposals will be evaluated by the Scholarly Research Project Directors.

Note: A summer research project may form the starting point for your Scholarly Research Project with continued, related longitudinal activity during the next 2+ years.

Research Elective (SRP and Non-SRP) Application Procedure

This opportunity is offered to all third and fourth year students, within the scope of their schedules, to allow them a set time period (for credit) to work solely on their research, either Scholarly Research Project (SRP) or non-Scholarly Research Project.
In addition, students cannot sign up for an SRP elective in the absence of a mentor/Dean approved Scholarly Research Project, Ethical Status approvals (e.g., IRB), if applicable must also be up to date.


  1. Student creates a one page research prospectus (see Sample Research Elective Prospectus included). If the elective is SRP based, the prospectus must be based on the student’s SRP proposal; however it must clearly state the work to be completed in the elective month.
  2. The prospectus must be approved and signed by the student’s Scholarly Research Project mentor. ***An emailed prospectus approval is acceptable from the designated mentor.
  3. The signed prospectus must be handed in to Pamela Harlow in the Office of Student Affairs (S-533 Scaife Hall), to be forwarded onto the appropriate SRP Dean for final review and approval.

No registration will occur in the absence of an approval by the mentor and an SRP Dean. After completion of the elective, an evaluation form will be sent to the mentor to complete so the student may receive academic credit and a grade. Please be advised that once you are registered for this elective, the time MUST be used for the research outlined in your prospectus. In the event the time is not utilized in ways congruent with the prospectus, no academic credit will be issued and that period on your schedule will be changed to “vacation” time.

Satisfactory Progress Policy

Rev 12-13-09

The purpose of this document is to formalize the process by which students execute and complete the Scholarly Research Project (SRP). It is our goal to make the SRP an enjoyable and rewarding experience for all of our medical students. We believe this is best achieved by assuring that students stay on track with goals and effectively communicate with mentors and the SRP directors (Deans for Medical Student Research). This policy will enable the student to know what is required to make satisfactory progress toward meeting the SRP requirement.


The SRP is a longitudinal experience throughout the four years of the medical school curriculum. The goals of the SRP are to:

  1. foster analytical thinking skills and the development of tools for rational decision making for our students
  2. provide role models, mentorship, and guidance for students regarding careers that integrate research, teaching, and clinical service
  3. present research and scholarly biomedical pursuits to students as endeavors that often, but not always, involve collegial interaction
  4. enhance the medical school culture of self-directed and peer group-fostered learning
  5. enhance the oral and written communication skills of graduating medical students.

This project was approved by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPSOM) Curriculum Committee as a requirement for the granting of the professional medicine degree (M.D.) beginning with the graduating class of 2008.


From matriculation through December of the second year, students are responsible for completing the Evidence-Based Medicine and the Investigation and Discovery blocks of courses. In addition, students may complete summer research between the first and second year that can count towards a Scholarly Research Project; however, this summer work is not a requirement, and is not sufficient for completion of the Scholarly Research Project as this is expected to be a longitudinal experience.

Progress Reports (PR’s) are required in the first year and in the beginning of the second year, as they are the starting facets of choosing a research project.

  • The first progress report is satisfied by providing a list of at least three potential mentors that the student has met or is scheduled to meet to discuss a potential research project.
  • The second progress report requires the student to outline their research domain, plans to begin to engage with the research group (e.g. attend lab meetings, complete background reading, etc.).
  • The third progress report will summarize progress toward finalizing the proposal and planned interactions with the mentor and research team. SRP initial proposals are due in mid-December of the second year.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Between January of the MS-2 year and January of the MS-4 year students are required to report SRP activity in the form of quarterly reports (QRs). The SRP proposal and QRs help assure satisfactory progress in the longitudinal SRP experience.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The SRP final project report will be accepted between January 1 and February 15 of the MS-4 year; the report must be formally approved by the mentor at the time of submission.
QR Schedule QR may be submitted as early as two weeks before due date
Year Level  

PR/QR –  Due  Date


PR/QR – Due Date


PR/QR – Due Date


QR – Due Date




PR 1 – Oct 1


QR 1 – July 1

PR 2 – March 1


QR 2 – Oct 1


PR 3 – Sept

QR 3 – Jan 1



QR 4 – April 1


QR 5 – July 1


QR 6 – Oct 1



Grade Assignment
Students will be registered automatically for the appropriate SRP course segment and assigned a satisfactory/unsatisfactory grade every three months starting on May 1st of the MS2 year and continuing through November 1st of the MS4 year. Grades will be based on achieving the following milestones.

Second Year:
In order to receive a satisfactory grade on May 1 of the second year, the student must have identified a mentor and received approval of his/her SRP proposal by the mentor and SRP Directors.

Third and Fourth Years:
In order to receive a satisfactory grade for remaining periods, the student must:

  1. Have an approved SRP proposal. It is understood that some students may need to change mentors and/or projects. Changing a project while continuing to work with the same mentor does not necessarily require a new proposal. Changing both project and mentor requires submission of a new project proposal with accompanying approval by the mentor. Documentation of any changes in project and/or mentor should be provided in the QR. Failure to comply with these requirements may result in an unsatisfactory grade.
  2. Have project Ethical Approval by July 1st of the MS 3 year. Failure to obtain approval by this date may result in an unsatisfactory grade.
    • *It is highly suggested that the chosen project has ethical (IRB, IACUC, CORID, QI or QA) approval at the time of initial submission. If this is not possible, the student should submit an explanation of why this cannot be accomplished and request an exception from the scholarly project directors. Regardless, ethical approval must be submitted by 7/1 of the 3rd year to maintain satisfactory progress in the scholarly project.
  3. Complete all required QRs in a timely fashion. Specific due dates for QRs are listed above and on each student’s Navigator portfolio site. The QR must address any questions posted by their mentor or director on their Navigator Portfolio (e.g., questions related to human subjects and/or animal research).
  4. Maintain an adequate level of longitudinal project. A single reporting period indicating no activity may not be cause for an unsatisfactory grade. Two consecutive QR quarters without appropriate activity may be cause for an unsatisfactory grade.

Elective Options
Up to three months of elective time dedicated to the SRP may be scheduled during the third and fourth years. This work will be reflected on the University transcript as course MSELCT 5720 – Mentored Project (see the separate policy for details). This course will be graded solely by the mentor using a five-level grading scale. Any additional months of elective time must be approved by the Associate Dean of Student Affairs and the Associate Dean for Medical Student Research.

SRP Final Report
The final project report will be accepted anytime between January 1 and February 15 of the MS-4 year. This report and the last two QRs will be the basis of the final grade. (SRPs that include research involving human subjects or animals must clearly document that data were collected in accordance with Institutional Review Board (IRB) or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) regulations). Documentation of mentor approval of the final project report will be recorded on the student’s Navigator portfolio or through written signature. All mentor approved final reports must be posted on the Navigator site no later than February 15. This will allow time for potential modification, as requested by the Associate Dean for Medical Student Research. Projects submitted after February 15 are considered delinquent and will not be eligible for research awards. In addition, students who submit projects after the due date may not have the opportunity to remediate problems, potentially delaying graduation. The final SRP grade will be reflected on the University transcript as course MSELCT 5730 – Mentored Project Completion. This grade will be reported to the SOM Registrar by April 1 in preparation for the April meeting of the Committee on Student Promotion. Students who are unable to meet the stated deadlines should expect to graduate later than May. All grades are determined by the Associate Dean for Medical Student Research, based on the expectations set forth above.

Combined Degree Programs
Students accepted into the UPSOM combined degree programs — MD/PhD, MD/OMS (Oral Maxillofacial Surgery Residents), MD/MS, CSTP and PSTP — will be tracked by the awarding program rather than the SRP program. The awarding of the PhD will constitute fulfillment of the SRP completion requirement. The OMS, CSTP and PSTP programs require a scholarly research project, and completion of that requirement will meet the SRP requirement. Scholarly Project grades will be a function of those individual programs rather than the responsibility of the Deans for Medical Student Research. The April 1, MS-4 year, deadline for submission of the notice of completion will be the responsibility of those individual Program Directors. University transcripts for students matriculating in those programs will reflect the MSELCT 5730 course only.
Top 10 reasons a Scholarly Pesearch Project may be unsuccessful and how to avoid them

  1. The project has not been carefully vetted by your mentor.
    discuss the project in detail with your mentor and make sure he/she agrees with all aspects of it.
  2. The project does not have an existing IRB )or other required ethical approval), and is not likely to soon receive one.
    pick a project for which an existing ethical approval is present, and submit a minor modification as needed.
  3. There is no funding for the project.
    this implies the mentor is not currently working in this area. Work with your mentor to pick a project for which he/she has funding.
  4. The project is overly ambitious.
    discuss with your mentor how to tone down the scope of the work so that you have a reasonable expectation of accomplishing your goals.
  5. The project is unfocused, lacks a testable hypothesis and/or has no obvious question.
    work with your mentor to refine the project.
  6. The mentor and student do not have an effective working relationship.
    this may reflect issues with the project itself or with the individual parties involved. Plan a meeting with your SRP Director as well as your mentor to resolve any problems that arise.
  7. The project is no longer of interest to the student
    speak with your SRP director about an alternate project. Do this as soon as possible.
  8. The project requires resources that are not available to the student
    speak to your SRP director and/or mentor regarding the possibilities for receiving funding. Be aware that funding resources from the SRP are quite limited; your mentor maintains prime responsibility for this.
  9. The project requires the study of a rare disease for which patients are infrequently encountered.
    refine the question or the project
  10. The project is not directly connected to a disease or health problem.
    work with your mentor to define the medical relevance.

The Bert and Sally O’Malley Awards for Outstanding Medical Student Research

Bert W. O’Malley, M.D. gained international recognition for his pivotal work on the molecular function of steroid hormone receptors. His research has shown that steroid hormones regulate de novo synthesis of specific proteins and that this process is accomplished primarily via an alteration of mRNA levels in target cells.

Dr. O’Malley received both Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Medicine Awards from the University of Pittsburgh and completed his internship and residency at Duke University.

He was recently awarded the Ernst Schering Prize for international excellence in medicine and basic biological and chemical research. One of the most prestigious German science honors, the annual prize was established by the Ernst Schering Research Foundation and is bestowed internationally for particularly outstanding basic research in the fields of medicine, biology, or chemistry. He currently holds the Thomas C. Thompson Chair in Cell Biology and is chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the Baylor College of Medicine. He also directs the Center for Reproductive Biology Research at Baylor and is Associate Director for Basic Science in the school’s Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center.

Dr. O’Malley is a member of the National Academy of Science and the Royal Academy of Medicine and a recipient of the National Medal of Science. He is also a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Hench Award recipient.

Dr. O’Malley’s wife, Sally, attended the University of Pittsburgh where she obtained a degree in Education.

Bert and Sally O’Malley awards are to be given for the outstanding Scholarly Project in each of the following categories: a basic science project carried out by a student during the traditional 4 years of medical school, a basic science project carried out by a student who has taken a year-off for research and completed medical school in 5 years, a clinical science project carried out by a 4 year student, and a clinical science project carried out by a 5 year student.