Some of you may have a burning question that you have been waiting to tackle on your own once you got to medical school, knowing that you’d have (scattered months of) time dedicated to scholarship. While this is not completely impossible in four years of medical school, it is certainly extremely difficult. This type of independent scholarly activity is typically what graduate students do during their 3-5 years of dedicated scholarly activity as part of a PhD program. Having said that, if you feel like you won't be satisfied until you pursue this option, please be aware of potential barriers...
You will be asking and answering your own scholarly question, which will take skill, independence, and motivation. Do you have the necessary requisites to do this?
Projects that involve prospective data collection need to be reviewed by the IRB and this can take at a minimum 2 months to obtain (1 month to write, 1 month to get approval), with time extending if the IRB board has any questions. Putting together an IRB proposal requires mentorship and skill. Do you have time to prepare your study and IRB proposal, and receive IRB approval before your dedicated scholarship time occurs?
You will most likely need a mentor to serve as a PI on your IRB application. Most mentors are excited to take on students to work on their ongoing interests and projects since they have their own grants and deliverables on which they are working. Because faculty members volunteer to mentor students, faculty may be unlikely to invest in a project unless it is directly related to their own work. Mentoring a student on a project that is entirely from scratch is a bigger time commitment than most mentors are used to. It is advisable to discuss your idea with a Track Leader or a member of the S&D Team to see if they might know of an appropriate mentor. Do you have a mentor to serve as the PI?
Finding funding for projects that are “out of the box” is equally as challenging as the project itself. Summer work is optional and summer funds for projects are not guaranteed. Pritzker does maintain limited funds to support students through a variety of mechanisms (e.g., Innovation Fund, Keith Edson) for projects that do not meet the requirements or rigor of the larger Summer Research Program (SRP). The level of funding for an individual student through these mechanisms may be less than the SRP stipend, and the availability of these funds may vary on a year-to-year basis. Do you have enough funds? Are you okay with waiting to see if you are awarded funding?
It is important to set your expectations and goals appropriately for your independent project. Publication is not required for S&D. However, many students want to aim for external dissemination. If this is a top priority, you might work on an ongoing project with a mentor who is experienced in publishing with students. Taking your independent project from inception to completion, securing mentorship, and trying to disseminate can be very overwhelming and often is not feasible during your time in medical school. Do you know what you want to get out of your scholarly experience?
Congratulations, you have got your own project, and now you are working on it independently! No one but you is invested in obtaining or disseminating the results. It is all up to you! Do you have the project management skills you need to get the work done? Do you know how to write up your results, and further, go about publishing them?
If your interest persists...
- Meet with the relevant Track Leader or the S&D Team (if the appropriate Track Leader is unclear). In so doing, you may obtain guidance and support on whether your idea is viable in the constraints of the time you will have to devote to scholarly work.
- Consider whether your timeline is feasible given the challenges with IRB, etc.
- Understand funding limitations and be flexible with funding constraints; this may mean seeking multiple funding sources at once or having a back-up plan if funding is necessary.
- Set expectations of your progress and scholarly products in a realistic way, accounting for the greater barriers to completing your work.
No matter which path you choose, we wish you a successful and fulfilling experience!