MD Program

Contact Medical Student Research Program

2185 MERF
Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2600
Phone:(319) 335-8573
Fax: (319) 335-8049

  • Research Distinction Track

    Director, Robert Roghair, MD
    Coordinator, Deanna Nielson, PhD

    The goal of the RDT is to encourage students to participate in research in a meaningful and substantial way over their four years of medical school. This exposure to training in scientific thinking should be an experience that will enrich their medical training.

    Briefly, the RDT is designed to allow students to be formally recognized for their participation in on-going medical research during their time in medical school. This is not considered to be a program in which a "degree" (e.g. Master's) is granted. Recognition of completion of the RDT will be noted within the student's MSPE Letter, transcript, and by special acknowledgement during the graduation ceremony.

    Interested students must declare their intent to be in RDT by the end of the M2 year (mid-May).

    Declaration of Participation

    Students can indicate their intent to participate in the RDT program as early as after acceptance into medical school, although they are generally encouraged to apply during their second (M2) year. Students are encouraged to consider this program at the time they are accepted to medical school in order to take full advantage of the opportunity for completing a pre-M1 summer fellowship. Applications are generally reviewed as a class cohort (e.g., Class of 2018 applications are reviews during the summer of 2016).

    The latest date that a student can apply to the RDT program is by the end of the second semester of their second year of medical school.

    Application Process

    Students submit a basic application which will identify their mentor and outline their "research activities plan" as described  below (background for plan, specific aims, summary of work accomplished to date, plans for future research, and any concerns about your mentor helping you to complete RDT).

    The Mentor must write a letter of nomination for his/her student. The nomination letter is to be uploaded into the student's RDT portfolio from the mentor's webpage on the RDT website. The student is responsible for contacting the mentor to solicit this letter (sample Nomination letter).

    The Medical Student Research Council (MSRC) will review materials from all students who apply for RDT. Students must be in good academic standing to be accepted into the RDT.

    Application Updates

    Once accepted into the RDT, students must update their application by mid-August of their M3 year and again no later than the end of February in their M4 year. Updates can be made at any time after acceptance to add publications, presentations, awards, and other pertinent information. Application updates must be done on-line. The form maintains all information already submitted, making it easier to see what is left to complete. Note that final updates must be complete no later than February 28 of the M4 year prior to the final graduation review.

    Completion of Requirements

    Students must complete all requirements prior to graduation. Acknowledgement of participation in RDT is contained in the MSPE letter, contingent upon demonstration of acceptable progress towards publication and completion of other RDT program requirements by September 1 of the M4 year. The MSPE letter comments concerning a student’s participation in the RDT will be a description of completed, current, and expected participation / requirements to be completed. This information for the MSPE letter should be written in conjunction with the student’s mentor.

    Once graduation with research distinction is approved by the MSRC, it is noted on the student's final transcript and submitted for inclusion in the awards section of the graduation program. 

    The Following 7 Criteria Must be Met for Graduation with Research Distinction:

    1. Identification of a Research Mentor

    • Students will identify a faculty member at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine who is willing to sponsor and supervise their participation in the RDT program. Faculty members are not limited in the number of students they can mentor at one time for RDT.
    • Potential available mentors for students may be identified through the Medical Student Research Program (MSRP) Mentor Search database.
    • Students may also ask for assistance in identifying a mentor by contacting Deanna Nielson, Coordinator of the Iowa Medical Student Research Program, or Dr. Robert Roghair, Director.
    • The mentor must write a letter of nomination for the student that accompanies the application. Students need to be aware of this requirement and are responsible for informing their mentor. Click here for the nomination letter instructions.
    • Acceptance to RDT is dependent on acceptance of the mentorship plan by the Research Council. If additional mentorship is indicated, the Research Council will pair the student with a more senior mentor in addition to the proposed mentor. 

    2. Participation in an active research project:

    The minimum requirement of active research time devoted to a project is 16 weeks*. This could be achieved in several ways:

    • Combination of Pre-M1 student summer fellowship and M1 student summer fellowship
    • Combination of M1 12-week student summer fellowship and Research elective in the 4th year
    • Year long research fellowship
    • Other combinations (requires pre-approval by Research Council at the time of application)

     *Students must be in good academic standing: Research done while students are not in good academic standing will not count toward the 16 week minimum required for RDT.
     *Extended schedule: Students on extended schedules, and in good academic standing, may count one pre-M1 summer fellowship and one post-M1 summer fellowship toward the 16 week requirement for RDT. 

    3. Participation in research related activities throughout medical school

    • The student and mentor develop a "research activities plan" in which they outline the relevant seminars, research clubs, grand rounds, conferences, journal clubs, etc. that the student will attend. (The student and mentor should meet minimally three times per year to discuss and update the plan.) Students should be aware that there are many opportunities to participate in research related activities, such as:
      • meetings specific to the department in which the student/mentor team is working
      • "general research" meetings such as attendance at the MSTP grand round series
    • In addition to the seminars and meetings described above, the student is expected to continue with ongoing research activities such as literature searches, manuscript preparation, additional data collection, etc.
    • All students and mentors must fill out an online evaluation of one another once a year after acceptance to the track. Click here to access the RDT website where you will find the evaluation form.

    4. Presentation of Research 

    • The student is required to present results of his/her research project on at least two occasions. The possible venues for presentation include Medical Student Research Day, College of Medicine Research Week, Departmental Research programs, regional / national scientific meetings, etc.
    • Student presentations cannot be of the same nature (oral or poster) for the same general audience within a 6-month period of time. In other words, students cannot do the same presentation for Research Day as they do for an on-campus group within a 6-month period of time and count both presentations toward RDT. The same presentation can be given in different venues, such as regional or national conferences. The same data can be presented orally in one presentation and in poster form in another. Presentations for departmental or lab meetings will not count toward this requirement.

    5. Preparation of a final manuscript   

    • The final manuscript must be in the form of a first author scientific paper formatted in a standardized manner such as: objectives, background, methods, statistical analysis, results and discussion. This could be a submitted or published article, with the student as first author, pertaining to research performed in medical school (click for a sample manuscript) as part of the RDT project. In the case of an unpublished manuscript, the mentor is expected to have seen and approved the manuscript as representing the student's research contributions.

     6. Submission of a Research CV

    • Prior to the pre-MSPE review, the student must submit a Research CV as part of the portfolio review. This CV can be updated following the review prior to final graduation review, if desired.

    7.  Graduation nomination letter

    • The faculty mentor is required to submit a graduation nomination letter to complete the RDT application file. It is the student's responsibility to obtain this letter from his/her mentor. This nomination letter should give an overview of the student's research activities and include a summary of the student's activities within the RDT during their M3 and M4 year. Click here for an example of a graduation nomination letter.

    Final Approval by the Medical Student Research Council 

    All RDT applicants must complete all requirements by February 28 of their M4 year. Completed applications are reviewed by the Medical Student Research Council (MSRC) in March. Final notification is sent electronically to the student and mentor following the review meeting.

    Guidelines and Tips for writing and completing a successful Research Distinction Track application

    •  Start with an outstanding scientific mentor. You  most likely have already done this if your summer research fellowship proposal was funded. What makes an outstanding mentor?
              1.   They have funding from the government or other agencies to do research. One way to check on this is to: a) ask the mentor about the funding of their research or b) look them up on the site Simply enter their name into the 'principal investigator' field and see what grants they have from the National Institutes of Health.
              2.   They have a PhD or have undergone research training.
              3.   They have a long list of publications.
              4.   A clinician (MD) with no research training, funding, or solid publication record is less likely to have high quality research for you to work on and could lead to difficulty in successful completion of the RDT.
    • Science and Mentor continuity is KEY. Many students will start research projects that may be in areas that are not in line with the field in which they eventually choose to practice. Then, when they change area of clinical interest, they try to change mentors. This is NOT recommended. Your research experience will be BEST if you stick with one mentor throughout your training. However, if your mentor is no longer able to assist you with your project or RDT completion, then the IMSRP Director is available to assist you with transitioning to another mentor.
    • Stay UP TO DATE. Ensure that you are prospectively planning and documenting all of your research activities - especially those in the 3rd and 4th years of medical school.
    •  Publish your manuscript. The first author manuscript that you need to fulfill RDT criteria is not required to be published. Even if it isn't, the quality of your manuscript will be evaluated by the Medical Student Research Council. If your manuscript has already gone through the peer review process and published, then it is more likely to be deemed of 'high quality' than if it hasn't gone through this process. NOTE: If your manuscript has not been published by September 1 of your M4 year, it must be submitted to the Research Council for feedback and in order to have participation in RDT mentioned in your MSPE letter for residency applications.