Selecting a Research Mentor

For PhD Students, the choice of a research mentor (dissertation advisor) and MTA is a major focus of the first year of the PhD Program. The year culminates with the student being accepted into the laboratory of a Graduate Faculty member for pursuit of the dissertation work. Together with that faculty member, the student decides on the MTA in which the advanced coursework, seminars and journal clubs, will be completed. Students are urged to take full advantage of their rotation experience during the first year. Faculty mentors of rotation students are urged to present a realistic picture of the tone of the laboratory, the nature of the ongoing projects, how work is assigned or monitored, and any general history or policies with respect to meetings, publications/authorship, weekly journal clubs and laboratory meetings, and direct contact to be expected with the laboratory leader. A choice of research mentor is usually, but not always, consonant with the MTA choice.

For MD/PhD students, the choice of a research mentor and MTA is done through lab rotations during the first two summers in the MD/PhD program. MD/PhD students end their second year in the program with being accepted into the laboratory of a Graduate Faculty member.

Each PhD student should complete the Dissertation Advisor/MTA Declaration Form before the end of the second semester in the Program. MD/PhD program strongly encourages its students to submit this form by March 1 of the second year/ fourth semester in the Program; however, for the form deadline is June 30 of that year. At this time, the student must also select at least three members for an Advisory Committee. Committee members should be selected because of their ability to provide scientific and/or technical support for the dissertation project. Advisory Committee members must be members of the Graduate Faculty. Two Advisory Committee members are experts in the area of the student’s research; a third member must be from a related field but need not be expert in the student’s area of research.

MD/PhD students are encouraged to add a clinical/translational (C/T) investigator, who need not be a member of the Graduate Faculty, to their Advisory Committee to provide feedback about the C/T impact of their research. This Form should be submitted to the Graduate School Office with all the required signatures as soon as possible, but no later than June 30.

One indication of satisfactory progress in the Program is the demonstration of the potential for research and the timely selection of a mentor and MTA. PhD students are expected to declare a dissertation advisor and MTA no later than 12 months after matriculation. MD/PhD students are expected to declare by the end of the second year in the Program.

The choice of a research mentor by the student and the acceptance of that student by the future research mentor should be considered a commitment on the part of both parties that the student will remain with the chosen research mentor until the thesis is completed. If a student is contemplating a change in research mentor or MTA, or, if the research mentor is unsatisfied with the academic progress of the student, mediation should be sought to remedy this situation by first meeting with the MTA Director and the student’s Advisory Committee. (MD/PhD students should also confer with the MSTP directors.) If necessary, the Dean of the Graduate School may also meet with the student and their research mentor. Movement between MTAs is permitted if the student is certified, in writing by the MTA Director(s), to be in good academic standing by the original MTA and is accepted, in writing, by the proposed MTA. Students who are contemplating a change must discuss this fully with the current research mentor. These changes invariably involve some loss of time and dislocation to both student and research mentor and possibly extra coursework. Careful guidance by the student’s Advisory Committee will reduce the number of such changes and will increase the likelihood that those changes that do occur are productive.

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