Scholarly Project

Handbook for Students & Mentors


The Scholarly Project is a required 4-year longitudinal course designed to stimulate critical thinking, enhance intellectual acuity and inquisitiveness, and to foster excellence in the development of clinician educators, clinician scientists and physician investigators. The SP allows medical students to conduct research with a faculty mentor on a topic of interest in the fields of health and health care, defined in the broadest sense. The primary goal is for the students to generate new knowledge, using scholarly approaches, while simultaneously helping to refine and differentiate their own career and specialty orientation prior to application for residency. The educational framework of the SP will provide all students with an understanding of basic research principles, including but not limited to the responsible conduct of research. Conducting and completing the SP will provide all students, regardless of their ultimate career path, an enhanced appreciation and understanding of the linkage between research scholarship and health and health care.

The course has multiple elements, including a didactic component, online training in the responsible conduct of research, experiential hands-on research addressing a focused question and associated hypothesis, and culminating with a final deliverable encapsulating the sum total of the research experience. It is understood that previous experience of students in research, if any, will be variable. Accordingly, most educational components of the SP in the first year will be uniform for all students.

Subsequently, the focus will be accommodating and developing the individual interests and goals, using the following framework:

  1. Each student will formulate a central research question and hypothesis that they will address during the four years of their SP, in conjunction with a faculty mentor, who will serve in that role for the entirety of the SP.
  2. The topic of the SP is up to the student, and should be based on a combination of interests, experience, abilities and synergy with the those of the faculty mentor
  3. The research methods used, the type of data collected, the processes of data analysis and interpretation, and the format for the final deliverable will depend upon and be appropriate for the specific SP.

Scholarly Projects will be organized by Distinction Tracks

A strength of the COM is the broad range of distinction tracks available to students, representing the culture and mission of the college. Accordingly, students will conduct their SP under the auspices of one of the distinction tracks, to allow differentiation and focus. The scale and scope of the SP, and selection of the mentor, will therefore be largely determined by the choice of DT for conducting the SP. The research question, the hypothesis derived from that question, the research methodologies, data collection, and data analysis will all be appropriate and feasible within that framework. In other words, the term “research” is not monomorphic, and should reflect a comfortable fit for all students regardless of their choice of SP.

Importantly, conducting the SP under the auspices of the DT does not obligate the student to fulfill the requirements for distinction in that track. Students will have the option of doing so, depending on their goals and interests.

Guidelines for Successful SP

While there are no formal criteria that distinguish successful from unsuccessful research projects, the following are commonly understood guidelines:

  1. The question, and the hypothesis, should examine an important issue. They should pass the ‘so what’ test. If no one really cares about the answer, the research fails that test
  2. The question, and the hypothesis should have no simple answer. While they should be focused, they cannot be answered with one word, a number, a list, etc. The answer should be fact and not opinion based.
  3. The data to answer the question/hypothesis can be generated, analyzed and interpreted in the time frame of the project.

Collaborative Projects: While many SP will collaborative, involving multiple individuals (faculty, graduate students, undergraduate students, research assistants, others), no two students can work can work on exactly the same project, defined as having the same specific hypothesis. All mentors must, with student input, determine and specify the precise role of the student in ongoing or future collaborative projects, including student responsibilities and tentative discussion of authorship/credit for publications.

Course Organization and Structure

Although each of the 8 semesters for this course will have a different organization and structure, the overarching framework is a coherent, progressive and sequenced process that culminates in the final deliverable in MS4 (MED820G and MED820H)

In the first semester (MED820A), there will be a series of required lectures and small group sessions. In addition, all students must complete training modules through the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI).

In the first year (MED820A and B), students will identify the distinction track in which they intend to conduct their scholarly project. An iterative process, including searching faculty databases, discussions and guidance from DT directors and SP leadership, and interviews with potential mentors will allow the students to select an appropriate mentor for their SP. They will work with that mentor for the entirety of the SP, per the timetable below. Dedicated time for project work will occur during the summer between MS1 and MS2.


Instructor and Contact Information

Course Director:
Keith A. Joiner, MD, MPH
Current: College of Medicine, Rm. #3121
              1501 N. Campbell Ave.
              Office: 520-626-4655
Mobile: 520-977-5733
Distinction Track Directors:
Bilingual Medical Spanish Distinction Track
              Alejandra Zapien Hidalgo, MD
Global Health Distinction Track
              Jerome Koleski, MD
Integrative Medicine Distinction Track
              Randy Horwitz, MD, PhD
Leadership and Innovation Distinction Track
              Mindy Fain, MD
Medical Education Distinction Track
              Interim: Paul Gordon, MD
Research Distinction Track
              Marlys Witte, MD
Rural Health Professions Distinction Track
              Carlos Gonzales, MD
MD/MPH Program Director:


All faculty in the College of Medicine will be eligible to participate in this course, by serving as mentors for student scholarly projects. In addition, selected faculty from other colleges at The University of Arizona will also participate, serving in that same role.