Program Description

Aim and Rationale

The Scholarly Projects Program (SPP) links medical students with faculty mentors to explore an area of medical practice or research with the aim of creating new knowledge. We encourage students to select a project that allows for immersion with the hope that this experience will consolidate the learning developed through Fundamentals and the Major Clinical Year into an individual professional passion.

All MD students (except in the PhD-to-MD track) are required to complete a scholarly project, though those who complete a year of research or a second academic degree during medical school may elect to waive the Scholarly Project requirement.

Learning Objectives

The SPP aims to develop students’ abilities in the following School-Wide Learning Objectives: (i) generate hypotheses, exhibit curiosity, and develop a pattern of life-long learning, and (ii) participate in the process through which new knowledge is generated, and assess the importance of novel ideas. Specifically, in completing the SPP, students will have the opportunity to ask innovative questions, deepen their experience of medicine and contribute to the academic environment.


The major steps of preparation for the Scholarly Project include mentor selection, track selection, and development of the project proposal. In selecting a track, we encourage students to reflect on their individual experiences, interests and passions and seek consultation from potential mentors and SPP Faculty as early in their medical training as they wish. Other preparatory work required prior to beginning the Scholarly Project depends on the topic. For example, students proposing original human subjects research must familiarize themselves with the policies and procedures of the Institutional Review Board. All students in the SPP may meet with the SPP Director and SPP Track Directors in advance to discuss their scholarly project goals and the tracks in which they are interested.

Subject Matter

The topic of the Scholarly Project is up to the student and should find common ground between the student’s interests, abilities and career desires and those of the mentor. In structuring a Scholarly Project, students select from five available tracks of study - Basic and Translational Science, Clinical Research, Global and Population Health, Medical Education, and Narrative and Social Medicine - each directed by senior faculty member(s). The Track Directors assist students in identifying mentors, structuring project proposals and anticipating regulatory reviews including those by the Institutional Review Board. Track Directors are also responsible for approving students’ projects, reviewing their progress on a regular basis and reviewing and grading students’ Capstones and posters.


In the context of the SPP, mentors provide supervision and guidance to medical students in planning, executing and recording their scholarly work. The role of the mentor evolves with the project and with the student. Students in the SPP take responsibility for setting a focused agenda for supervision, scheduling meetings, collaboratively setting goals and reflecting on their progress according to proposed plan, asking for help when they need it and preparing required documentation in a timely manner. For more information on mentoring, please see Sambunjak et al.

Mentoring relationships in the SPP will have several phases:

  • Introduction and exploration: In the first phase of mentorship, the potential mentor meets with the student to identify opportunities for collaboration and to determine whether the pair’s interests, resources and interpersonal styles are compatible. If so, the pair will review the mentorship agreement. If not, the faculty member will refer the student back to the Track Director and, if applicable, to colleagues who may be a better fit for the student.
  • Planning: In the second phase of mentorship, the selected mentor guides the student in preparing a Project Proposal that balances ambition with practicality. Scholarly projects should be innovative but may leverage existing resources (i.e., projects and initiatives already underway) to optimize the likelihood that in four months the student will achieve the project goals.
  • Execution: In the third phase of mentorship, the mentor oversees the student’s work along the proposed trajectory. The student and mentor are expected to meet weekly to discuss the project. As unexpected problems or opportunities arise, the student and mentor will continually revise the plan for the remainder of the project.
  • Completion: In the final phase of mentorship, the mentor will guide the student in preparing the Capstone Requirement according to Track-specific standards. The mentor will also submit a Final Evaluation of the student’s work, at which time the mentor will be compensated for their contribution.


Students in the SPP dedicate four or more months of full-time effort on their project during Differentiation & Integration(D&I). SPP work, including the students’ investigation and involvement in any track-specific didactics, may be started as early as the beginning of D&I and must be completed by the end of March prior to graduation. The requirement may be fulfilled contiguously or in divided periods. At the conclusion of the Scholarly Project, each student is required to prepare and submit a written summary of their work, the Capstone, and a poster.


Each student completing a scholarly project will submit documentation of track declaration, project proposal, progress update and a final report. Submitted work is reviewed by the mentor and Track Director according to common standards.

  • Mentor Identification – due when registering for your first month of the scholarly project
  • Track Declaration – due when registering for your first month of the scholarly project
  • Project Proposal – due at the end of the second week of your first month of the scholarly project
  • Progress Report – due at end of the second month of the scholarly project
  • Capstone Report and Poster – due at conclusion of the last month of the scholarly project


Each student completing a scholarly project is eligible for up to $500 to defray expenses related to travel, presentation or other costs associated with the project. Students may apply for additional funding through the Sara and Arnold P. Friedman Awards program. Columbia Faculty mentors receive a stipend for their contribution upon completing the final evaluation. A foreign mentor must complete an 8BEN form using an email address so the mentor can verify their information.

Scholarly Projects “Plus” Students who wish to engage in projects longer than four months must develop an Individualized Learning Plan (ILP) and request a meeting with the SPP Director by opening a ticket in UserVoice ( The ILP will be reviewed by the SPP Director and the Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs before additional months are approved.

Program Director