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Medical Student Research

George Harrell, MD, the founding dean of Penn State College of Medicine, established the Medical Student Research (MSR) program as an integral part of this medical school’s curriculum. It is a requirement for the MD degree.

The MSR program gives each medical student an opportunity to participate in mentored medical research. Students gain an understanding of the research process, limitations and variability of data, and an application of research to clinical practice. Projects may be in the clinical, social or basic medical sciences and may be conducted on campus or at off-campus sites, nationally or internationally.

Faculty looking for information about the MSR project, including adding projects to the list for students and work-study, should see the MSR page on the Faculty and Staff website.

Contact Information

Fadia Kamal, PhD
Director of Medical Student Research
Associate Professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation
Penn State College of Medicine

Nicole Vasquezi-Rode
Assistant Director, Medical Student Research Program
Penn State College of Medicine Office of Medical Education

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Class of 2025 Expand answer

Jan. 17, 2025 – MSR Final Reports due

Class of 2026 Expand answer

Jan. 16, 2026 – MSR Final Reports due

Class of 2027 Expand answer

Jan. 15, 2027 – MSR Final Reports Due

Class of 2028 Expand answer

Aug. 18, 2024 – Literature review

Feb. 23, 2025 – CITI Training Due (All 3 sections)

March 14, 2025 – Summer Translational Science Fellowship (TSF) application and proposal due (See details via Penn State Clinical and Translational Science InstituteLinks to an external site., which operates this program)

April 25, 2025 – Work Study Deadline for student and departmental paperwork

April 27, 2025 – MSR Scholarship applications due (an MSR Proposal and CV must also be submitted in order to be considered)

June 8, 2025 – MSR Proposals due for those conducting research during the summer of 2024 (For Federal Work Study Students)

Jan. 16, 2028 – MSR Final Report Deadline

MSR Overview

How do I identify an on-campus adviser for an off-campus project? Expand answer

The easiest way to identify an on-campus adviser would be to choose someone who is familiar with the kind of work you will be doing at an external institution (someone who can actually advise you, for example, on whether you are taking on a manageable role in a project, or whether your effort is suitable for an MSR). If you already have someone you work closely with here, and they are comfortable serving this additional role, that is also fine.

Must I do my MSR at Penn State's campus in Hershey? Expand answer

Projects may be performed at any qualified facility, as long as this is defined in the proposal and approved by the Committee. when an off-campus research adviser will be responsible for the actual supervision of the project, the student must also have an on-campus sponsor (this can be your academic adviser); the role of the on-campus sponsor is to help ensure that your project will meet the MSR requirements, and serve as a first point of contact if your research adviser has questions.

Note that if your project involves human subjects in any way, then human subjects research approval is required from the IRB at the research site, AND from the Penn State College of Medicine IRB. You will need to provide the IRB abstract from your research adviser and a copy of your sponsor’s approval letter to our IRB for approval. Approval MUST be granted by the University IRB before beginning involvement with the human subjects as part of MSR.

You can find more about human subjects in the MSR Guidelines.

Who is the research adviser of my MSR? Expand answer

Your research adviser is the person who has expertise in your chosen area of research, and who actually provides day-to-day supervision of your research project.

Human Subjects

I just want to conduct a survey of a small group of people. Do I need IRB approval? Expand answer


Human research is any interaction with humans that involves data collection and analysis. This includes questionnaires, surveys, interviews, focus groups, etc., as well as scientific studies of normal or abnormal physiology and development, studies that evaluate the safety, effectiveness, or usefulness of a medical product, procedure, or intervention, and studies that involve any invasive procedures. Any research in medical education that you intend to report publicly (for example, in an MSR Final Report) requires IRB approval.

You can find more about human subjects in the MSR Guidelines.

My research supervisor in Africa has local IRB approval for her research. Do I really need IRB approval from Penn State College of Medicine? Expand answer


The IRB must review and approve research conducted outside the United States of America by PSU employees or students, even if the foreign research receives no U.S. governmental funding. Such collaborative research activities must meet ethical standards similar to those required at PSU. The IRB may approve such research, provided it determines that

  1. the research conforms to proper codes of ethics (e.g., the Declaration of Helsinki or the Belmont Report) and
  2. the research is approved by the local ethical review authority.

Requirements for the informed consent process will follow the laws and customs of the country in which the research is being conducted. If a U.S. department or agency funds the research, then it is probable that the foreign research site will need to file a Federal Wide Assurance (FWA) application through OHRP.

Guidance on important IRB issues in international human subjects research can be found in the University Park Office of Research Protections “Guideline II, International Research Involving Human Participants.”

You can find more about human subjects in the MSR Guidelines.


Can I receive academic credit for my research work? Expand answer

Academic credit is available, but not required, when a student uses specific elective time to conduct their research. To obtain academic credit, the student should register for course “Subject 596 Individual Studies” in basic science departments or “Subject 796 Individual Studies” in clinical departments. The number of credits will be determined by the sponsor and will depend on the number of hours committed to the project.

Can I undertake an international clinic rotation and a Medical Student Research Project simultaneously? Expand answer

Data acquisition and data reduction for a MSR project while abroad requires a considerable time commitment to the research project on the part of the student. While Penn State supports students spending time abroad in clinical settings to acquire international perspectives on health care, it is very difficult for a student to do an international clinical rotation and an acceptable MSR project simultaneously.

Can I get paid for working on my MSR Project? Expand answer

The decision to pay you while working on your MSR project is at the discretion of your research supervisor. Research funding is extremely difficult to obtain, and research supervisors may not have research funds to pay you. Students working on their MSR project typically are working on their project full-time during the summer after the first year of medical school. Most projects at Penn State can be supported by federal work study positions for summer work, but both you and your adviser must fill out forms by April 1 to qualify. Work study funds will pay for three-quarters of the salary of a student. The department or adviser is responsible for the remainder. Research at sites other than Penn State cannot be supported by work study. Students may not be paid while enrolled in research electives for academic credit.


A paper has been published based on my MSR Project. May I just submit a reprint (or a copy of the manuscript) instead of an MSR Final Report? Expand answer

It depends. If you are the first author of the paper, you may submit the reprint or manuscript. If you are not the first author, you will need to also submit an MSR Final Report that describes your contribution to the overall work.

My project has been selected for presentation at a national meeting. Are funds available to support my travel cost and meeting registration? Expand answer

Congratulations! Having your work selected for national exposure is a true honor.

We have a limited amount of Travel Funds that are available to assist with expenses for medical students traveling to present at a conference. Information and guidelines are found under Funding and Awards.

Must my research be published in the peer-reviewed literature to meet the requirement? Expand answer

It is not required that your research be published (although that is often a frequent outcome that we strongly encourage!). Your participation should be at a level that you would be a co-author should it be published.