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FAQ for students

How much time should I be spending on my project?

Unscheduled afternoons in Phase I & II were specifically designed for students to pursue self-directed learning, including the Mentored Scholarly Activity requirement.

The Curriculum Oversight Committee has an expectation that students will spend on average one-half day per week on their Mentored Scholarly project during Phase I & II (years 1 & 2).

The expectations include involvement with your mentor and project during Phase III, especially during the intersessions. Some students will devote sufficient continuous time in all Phases and others will need 6-8 weeks of concentrated time in either the first summer break or in early blocks in Phase IV to successfully complete their Mentored Scholarly project. Any concentrated work should be completed by November 1 of Phase IV, but all students will continue working on their project until their required capstone presentation in the spring of Phase IV.

How to Be Mentored Well

Here are some qualities to cultivate in yourself as you seek to be mentored:

    • Foresight: Start early to think about your future.
    • Proactivity: Don't expect to be taken care of. You could easily be overlooked in the competitive world of science.
    • Probing: Ask tough questions. Find out about the experiences of others with this potential mentor.
    • Respect: Be polite. Make and keep appointments. Stay focused. Don't overstay your welcome.
    • Gratitude: Everyone likes to be thanked.
    • Reciprocation: Repay your mentor indirectly by helping others.
    • Humility: Be willing to accept critical feedback so that you are open to learning new ways of thinking about and doing science.

Burroughs Wellcome-Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Making the right moves: A practical Guide to Scientific Management. Mentoring and being Mentored. Chapter 5, page 107 © 2006 by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Burroughs Wellcome Fund. All rights reserved.

What is scholarly activity?

Scholarly activity is advanced study in a specific field.

Why is it important for a physician to be a scholar?

As a physician, you will be expected to stay informed about and evaluate current diagnostic and therapeutic techniques, and to use your knowledge to deliver state-of-the-art medical care to your patients.

How does the Mentored Scholarly Activity (MSA) Block help students become scholars?

The MSA Block allows students the opportunity to explore different areas of medicine and medical research with the guidance of a faculty mentor.

How does the program work?

You will meet with the Associate Director in the thematic area of your choosing to identify a mentor. Over the 4 years of the curriculum, you and your mentor collaborate on a scholarly project of mutual interest. Near the end of Phase IV, you present your results at a campus-wide Capstone Celebration.

When will I work on my project?

You meet with the Associate Director in the thematic area of your choosing to identify a mentor. Over the 4 years of the curriculum, you and your mentor collaborate on a scholarly project of mutual interest. Near the end of Phase IV, you present your results at a campus-wide Capstone Celebration.

Some students will perform intensive work on the project in the summer between Phase I and II. For many students, much of your scholarly activity will occur during early electives in Phase IV. Some students will work regularly and consistently throughout all Phases of the curriculum. Ultimately, the quality of your MSA project depends on you.

How do I choose a mentor and project?

The MSA program has 5 Associate Directors, each of whom oversees one of the following thematic areas: Basic Science; Clinical Science; Epidemiology, Public & Community Health; Global Health; and Humanities, Social Sciences & Education. In Phase I, Associate Directors will describe the types of projects you might do in their thematic area and help you find a faculty mentor. You and your mentor will then work together to develop an appropriate project. They can guide you through the thematic area database of mentors and their interests.

How much time will a project take?

In Phase I and II, most students will probably spend, on average, approximately ½ day per week attending meetings, talking to Associate Directors, contacting faculty, planning and researching your project. In Phase III, the heavy requirements of the clinical blocks will occupy most of your time. In Phase IV, there are a number of electives during which you can devote all your time to completing your project and preparing your capstone presentation.

What if I finish my project early?

Some students will do a large portion of their project during the summer break after Phase I. The MSA program expects that all students will continue to pursue their scholarly interests during all 4 years of the medical curriculum, for example, by staying in contact with your mentor and updating your project as necessary.

What do I need to do for the capstone presentation?

You will submit a 10-25 page paper describing your project in February of Phase IV. You will also present your results as a poster (or other format) summarizing your project at a campus-wide Capstone Celebration, to be held in March of Phase IV.

Can I change projects or mentors in midstream?

You are always free to change projects if you and your mentor think that is appropriate. If you decide you want to change your mentor, you will need to consult with the Associate Director for your new thematic area who will help you choose a new mentor and a project that can be competed in the time available. You must complete a new project form if you change your project and/or mentor.

Are there different ways to complete the MSA requirement?

Each project will be unique. Most will be presented as a poster, some may be presented in other formats, such as a video-taped documentary or an exhibit of photographs. All projects are expected to be related in some way to the practice of medicine.

How does my Associate Director keep track of my progress?

Every semester, you will update your MSA comprehensive plan form with your mentor and submit the form to your Associate Director. Using the form, your Associate Director will be able to monitor your progress and assign your grade for that semester.

Can I do a team project?

Yes. Student teams of 2-4 students may do a Mentored Scholarly Project together. However, the proposed work and contributions of each student must be defined and approved. Students may team with students in the next classes to provide continuity.

What if I have a problem with my mentor or Associate Director?

If you have problems with your mentor, meet with your Associate Director to resolve the problems. If you have problems with an Associate Director, meet with the MSA Program Director to resolve the problem.

Is funding available for a project?

A variety of summer research opportunities offer funding on a competitive basis. There are a number of programs that will support you in this endeavor, such as the Research Track and the Cancer Center summer fellowships (see MSA web site for more info). In addition, Mentors with research funds may also be able to support your project.

Do I need to obtain approval for projects involving human subjects, animals or biohazards?

Yes. The best person to consult about these issues is your mentor, who will tell you what is required. You should especially be aware of any project involving human subjects, which requires approval from COMIRB (Colorado Multiple Institutional Review Board; see If you need COMIRB approval, you should apply several months before you begin the project.