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FAQ | Student

Do I have to complete a Capstone Scholarly Project (CSP) if I already conducted research projects before entering medical school?

The Capstone Scholarship and Discovery Course and project are designed to help students develop, improve, and maintain scholarship skills during medical school that will better prepare them for the next step of their professional career. Many of our students come to medical school with experience in research, community service, and other topics that might be related to a Capstone; however, the context of those experiences was quite different. Completing the Capstone curriculum supports students to maintain their interests, or identify new ones, inside a longitudinal relationship with a self-identified advisor, while further developing interests in the context of one who is progressing through medical school. Longitudinal development is the rational that a student may not complete and submit a Capstone project immediately following summer research that occurs between 1st and 2nd year. The value of the Capstone project is that it is completed through the filter of clinical experiences, career decision-making and transitioning to post-graduate education.

Capstone for students in the Clinical Translational Research Pathway (CTRP) students that complete a 5th Year Option MSci

The Capstone course will help trainees prepare for their future careers as physician scientists. It will also help to address a major challenge: balancing the clinical and research components of their training. This is pivotal, because successful physician-scientists are those who can balance these worlds simultaneously.


  • Capstone Scholarship and Development Course (CSD) Co-leaders: Rachel Gerstein, PhD, Course Co-Leader; Christina Hermos, MD MMSc, Course Co-Leader; Carolina Ionete MD PhD, Course Co-Leader; Sarah McAdoo MD MPH, Course Co-Leader; Lawrence Rhein MD, Course Co-Leader; Joseph Sabato MD, Course Co-Leader; Colleen Burnham, MBA, Program Manager. 
  • Office of Undergraduate Medical Education: Melissa Fischer, MD, MEd, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Medical Education; Sonia Chimienti, MD, Associate Dean for Student Affairs.
  • CTRP program: Silvia Corvera, MD, CTRP Program Co-Director, Catarina Kiefe PhD MD,CTRP Program Co-Director, Anne Michelson, MBA, Graduate Programs Administrator.

Summary:  MSci CTRP students will participate in career development and skill-building activities primarily under the direction of the CTRP Program Co-Directors.  Given the intensive training that these students receive with respect to scientific scholarship, a separate Capstone project (in addition to their Master’s dissertation) is not required.  To fulfill the curricular requirement of the Capstone Course, these students will participate in Capstone Presentation Day during their AS year by presenting their Thesis work with an emphasis on integration of their work and its clinical utility and implications.  

Note: This change will be in effect as of April 1, 2018 for all MSci students (current and incoming). Students that started Medical School before Fall 2012 are exempt. 

6.18.19 | cjb

How much time is considered appropriate for the Capstone Project?

This may differ based on the particular student project. The goal is for students to learn how to investigate, and or how to initiate and conduct a project. Students are encouraged to follow current passions or explore new territory; for instance, a student project might build on elective experiences, volunteer activities, classes, research, community projects, patient care, etc. to which they are already devoting time (eg, a summer program between 1st and 2nd year, as part of an interest group, learning community, population health clerkship). Students can reasonably build on this by adding just a few hours a month during most of the year, as well as developing supporting FCEs in the 3rd year, electives during 4th year, and the AS month.

Please see the next FAQ "What times are available for students..." for more information.

What times are available for students to work on their Capstone scholarly project?

Preparing and completing your Capstone project requires that you find time to attend to your project during each of your years of medical school. While formal protected time is not designated in the first three years, there are multiple opportunities to spend time working on the Capstone Project. One month is dedicated in the fourth year for final completion of the Capstone Scholarly Project (CSP). Please be aware of CSD course due dates so that you can schedule the time needed to complete associated tasks and review them with your advisor prior  to deadlines.

Unscheduled Time

  • Protected Monday afternoons in FOM1 and FOM2 years
  • Non-scheduled time throughout all four years
  • Summer between FOM1 and FOM2 years

 Related Course Time

  • 1-week Flexible Clinical Experiences (FCE) in the Core Clinical Experiences (CCE) year (see FCE Program webpages for more information)
  • Advanced Studies (AS) electives
  • 1-month dedicated Capstone time in the AS year (to finalize and write-up your work)

How do I develop a longitudinal project based on work I completed during the summer between FOM1 and FOM2?

There are many ways to continue learning about a topic that you focused on after your first year of medical school. If you conducted research or other project work during the summer after FOM1, you may continue to build on this effort; examples include completing analyses or related work or focusing on what changes have occurred in the field since completing your initial project. You may design an experiment that addresses an unanswered question, even if you are not able to complete the research. Or, you might consider the logical next steps of the project and investigate how those steps could be implemented (in theory or in practice). As part of the project you will want to familiarize yourself with related professional literature (published before or after your initial work). 

Is the Advanced Studies (AS) Capstone month an elective or required? Must the weeks be taken in the AS year or can they be spread across the 4 years?

The AS Capstone month is required, must be completed as consecutive weeks in the 4th year, and is designed to ensure that all students have time to devote to completing the project components. The 4th year placement ensures project completion occurs through the lens of experience that has spanned the educational continuum, taking into consideration the change in perspective as a student progresses from foundational to clinical studies to career path selection.

Please note: The 4 weeks do not count toward the required 24 elective weeks. Students with difficulty scheduling consecutive weeks should contact CSD or their Capstone House Affiliate. 


What’s the difference between doing a Senior Scholars project and my Capstone project? Can my Capstone project ‘count’ towards Senior Scholars?

There are several ways that Senior Scholars and Capstone differ. Some of the key differences are: 1) students follow a scholarly approach to Capstone, although it need not be at the same depth of research as that for Senior Scholars; 2) Capstone projects require longitudinal effort throughout enrollment whereas Senior Scholars can be started and completed in 2-3 months in the Advanced Studies (AS) year; and 3) all students plan a Capstone project starting in their first year of UMMS, and only some choose to do a Senior Scholars project (with this choice being made typically sometime between the CCE year through the middle of the AS year). 

Importantly, students may choose to convert their Capstone into a Senior Scholars project. All students in the CTRP will do this by design. Other students have the opportunity to expand their Capstone into a Senior Scholars project, as long as the project meets the requirements of Senior Scholars. Another possibility is to end the Capstone and start a new Senior Scholars project. Some students may also choose to complete both Capstone and Senior Scholars projects (and receive credit for both of them if they complete their Capstone month in the AS block as well as the 2-month minimum for Senior Scholars) (see details below).

For non-CTRP students, there are 3 ways in which the Capstone and Senior Scholars projects can be related:

  1. Students can expand their Capstone into a Senior Scholars project. The Senior Scholars Committee is fairly flexible in helping students transition their Capstone to Senior Scholars. This requires the student to demonstrate, when applying to Senior Scholars, how they are expanding their Capstone to meet the AS requirements of the Senior Scholars Program (students cannot simply take more time to complete their Capstone by saying they want to join Senior Scholars). All students must obtain Capstone credit, as this is a graduation requirement; however, a student who successfully completes a Senior Scholars project can request that 4 of their Senior Scholars credits be applied to Capstone. It is important to include this in the calculation of AS year elective credits and graduation requirements as credits ‘converted’ to Capstone from Senior Scholars DO NOT count towards the required number of AS electives.
  2. Students may also opt to complete a Senior Scholars project in addition to completing their Capstone project (e.g., if their Capstone project is something different than what they’d like to pursue for Senior Scholars). In this circumstance, students can receive credit for both if they complete an AS month for their Capstone and the minimum 2 Senior Scholars months. However they may do both without taking an AS Capstone month in the 4th year as one Senior Scholars month can be applied for credit to cover the Capstone requirement. Students choosing this option should use their PEP form to carefully calculate the number of credits in their AS year to ensure they meet graduation requirements.
  3. Finally, students may opt to do a Senior Scholars project and not complete their Capstone project, yet still get Capstone credit as a member of the Senior Scholars Program. However, it is strongly advised that the student discuss this with the Capstone advisor so that he/she is not being left with an unfinished project where there was an expectation by the Advisor that this be completed.

 All students must complete the required Capstone reflection, even those who expand their Capstone into Senior Scholars or stop their Capstone and start a new Senior Scholars project. The other CSD deliverables (e.g., progress reports and presentation) will be completed up to the point that the student is formally accepted into the Senior Scholars Program.


How do the Senior Scholars, CTRP, and MD/PhD programs relate to Capstone?

We recommend CTRP and MD PhD students meet with their program advisors for clarification of requirements.

Students accepted into the Senior Scholars program and completing Senior Scholars INSTEAD OF Capstone should indicate this on their PEP. Senior Scholars can be scheduled for 2 or 3 months (8 or 12 credits) of which one month (4 credits) will be counted toward the Capstone requirement; the remainder toward Senior Scholars. Senior Scholars students will indicate this to the Office of the Registrar electronically upon completion of the Senior Scholars requirements.

Can I complete a Capstone Project based on work for which I am being paid?

It is appropriate to relate your Capstone Project to work for which you are being paid or receive funds. Some examples of this situation may be academic department employment, engaging in a summer research fellowship, participating in a community assistantship, or obtaining travel funds for Global Health. All of these opportunities provide for experiences that can be developed into or contribute to Capstone Projects.

Is there any type of funding available to support Capstone Projects?

UMMS does not provide specific funds to support Capstone Project work; however other resources are often available. We recommend the following strategies for identifying funding.

  • Visit the Office of Student Affairs Funding Opportunities webpage 
  • Contact the Director of Financial Aid (sometimes additional loan money is available)
  • Watch email for periodic announcements of various types of grant applications sent by the Office Student Affairs
  • Check AAMC or other national student/medical organizations which may offer mini-grants
  • Discuss with your Advisor as it could be a funded project - or your Advisor may recommend relevant agencies who may provide funding
  • Talk with any group related  to your Project to find out if they offer funding
  •  If you are taking a course or attending a conference or program, check to see if they would offer a discount for students or have any scholarships or grants for which you can apply
  • Contact local business/philanthropic agencies
  • If you are travelling, check with the local medical school for information to help with short-term housing.


Who is my Capstone House Affiliate?

The Capstone Scholarship & Discovery Course Team ​ 

Colleen Burnham MBA | Program Manager | Kelley (MS3 MS4) & Groups​ 
Bronwyn Cooper MD | Course Co-Leader | Kelley (MS1 MS2)​ 
Rachel Gerstein PhD | Course Co-Leader | Blackstone & Tatnuck (MS4) ​ 
Christina Hermos MD MS | Course Co-Leader | Burncoat​ 
Carolina Ionete MD PhD | Course Co-Leader | Quinsigamond ​ 
Sarah McAdoo MD MPH | Course Co-Leader | Brightwood​ 
Jill Zitzewitz PhD | Course Co-Leader | Tatnuck ​​ 

What about Group and Legacy Projects?

Students may elect to work in a group, with a maximum of 3 students from any of the three UMMS schools. Students may be from different curriculum years. All students in the group will have a shared Project, but each student will need to complete a distinct part of the Project to demonstrate their own learning. Each student in the group will submit individual reports throughout the course, although report content will typically be written collaboratively. In addition, students should be careful to plan group projects so that delay in one individual’s effort does not impact another’s substantially. Students may have one Advisor for the Project, or each student may have their own Advisors. Multiple Advisors must coordinate with one another.

Legacy projects are those projects which can be carried on by subsequent matriculating students after the initial work. Legacy projects must build on and may not duplicate previously completed projects, extending and supporting growth in the original project. 

As members of a group project, are we required to submit separate reports or can we submit one report with all of our names on it?

Because group projects often split into multiple projects, we do ask that each student submit his or her own initial project proposal. As well, each submission should be different enough that it begins to outline the different role each member will fill in the group project. Depending on how the work eventually splits across the group, the individual members may eventually submit collaboratively written reports; that is, each group member would submit the same report in his or her own name, with the member contributions cited in the body of the report. 

Contact Colleen Burnham if you have addition group-project questions

How do I find a Capstone Advisor?

One of the goals of the Capstone Scholarly Project is to develop and support your networking skills, which is an important piece of professional development. A good first step after identifying an area of interest is to visit the department website that fits best with your interest to identify its faculty who are doing work in the topic area. Spend time reviewing research described on the site, and contact any who share your interest. In addition, the Capstone Course has an Advisor Interest List which can be accessed on the Course website. You may also want to use the UMass Profiles Research Networking Software site at

What about Inter-professional (IP) Projects?

Students may work with other students to develop an inter-professional CSP, including those involved in the nursing and graduate programs at the university. Medical students participating in an inter-professional project are required to submit all CSD reports and present the CSP on behalf of the IP team. Interprofessional projects must also follow group project guidelines.

What if I want to change my Capstone and my advisor is the PI (co-PI)?

Occasionally students want to change their projects because of new-found interests or extreme difficulties with execution. Before any such change is made, it is important to consider the impact on the other individuals or group with whom you are working, the reason for the change and the feasibility of the change. When working on a project for which your Advisor is the principle investigator (or co-investigator), it is particularly important to consider your obligation to the larger project. Before proposing such a change, students should meet with a member of the CSD leadership team; you may also consider discussing this with your LC mentor. Once you have had these conversations, you must discuss and receive permission to change the direction of your project, or to leave the Project entirely, from the Advisor/PI (and submit related project change forms). Students should remember that they can complete independent study electives or a Senior Scholars Project in addition to the Capstone Project in order to meet multiple interests. 

Must my work be presented at conferences or be publishable?

While external dissemination is not required for the Capstone Scholarship and Discovery course, we anticipate that some students will have the opportunity to participate in public presentation, either through poster presentations, oral presentations, or co-authoring professional publications. While you may not have initially planned to disseminate your work, you may find as you near completion that you would like to consider these opportunities. We recommend that you consult with your Advisor as to the feasibility, and recognize that any such change may require IRB approval if you had not requested it initially.

Additionally, some projects incorporate a variety of innovative forms of scholarly distribution beyond the traditional methods; we encourage you to consider alternative forms of dissemination. These include, but are not limited to, video production, building internet resources, or authoring policy narratives. 

I’ve never given a public presentation, what should I do?

Public presentation is an important skill and one of the goals of the Capstone course. It is a useful exercise for improving one’s ability to communicate effectively and clearly. Students who have not given presentations before and or are uncomfortable in doing so have a number of options to assist them. Please consult with your Advisor and or CSD leadership for help. We additionally strongly recommend that you practice your presentation with family, friends or classmates to get feedback and hone your presentation. 

Do I need UMMS Institutional Animal Care and Use (IACUC) approval? Do I need to complete anything else beyond the UMMS IACUC paperwork in order to move forward with my project?

If you plan to conduct research involving animal subjects, a specific IACUC research protocol must be reviewed and approved by the IACUC prior to receiving animals or conducting any research on existing animals. The protocol review and approval process is comprised of three main phases that takes between 6-8 weeks to complete: administrative review, veterinary pre-review, and IACUC review. This proposal should be submitted to the IACUC as soon as possible after your FOM2 Spring Capstone Proposal has been approved; please plan accordingly. Students may be added as an additional person to an existing protocol, if your Capstone Advisor already has an approved protocol; please consult your Advisor to determine if this might be the case.

See the UMMS IACUC website for more detailed information.

Do I need UMMS Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval? Do I need to complete anything else beyond the UMMS IRB paperwork in order to move forward with my project? How long does the IRB process take?

The UMMS IRB must be consulted for any research involving human subjects. The IRB will make one of the following decisions:

  • The project does not meet criteria for definition of research with human subjects and thus does not require review
  • The project meets criteria for definition of research with human subjects but is exempt due to educational nature
  • The project meets criteria for definition of research with human subjects and requires expedited or full IRB review and approval before research may begin

All human subjects research requires that investigators complete CITI training; this is linked on the left navigation of the IRB website. Students complete this work as part of the PoP course, but may need to renew certification in the course of their Capstone work as original certification is valid for only 3 years. Faculty advisors for projects requiring IRB approval must have CITI training as well. In addition, all students must follow HIPAA guidelines.

IRB proposal submissions are assigned to pre-scheduled IRB committee meetings as soon as the pre-review process is complete. IRB committees meet twice monthly, the review can thus take several months depending on when your forms are submitted and the specific comments of the reviewers. Please plan accordingly.

Please see the UMMS IRB website and Investigator Manual for detailed information.
Of note: Students may not be named as Principle Investigators (PI) on IRB protocol submissions. Other determinations regarding project leadership and authorship on related presentations and publications should be discussed openly by the project group.

What is the Students as Study Subjects (SAS) committee?

The SOM Ad Hoc Students as Study Subjects (SAS) Advisory Group (SAS Advisory Group) will provide constructive feedback to investigators conducting scholarly projects in medical education that may recruit student participation. Operating in the best interest of the student body and the SOM curriculum, and representing institutional stakeholders, the SAS Advisory Group has an advocacy role, and will:

  • provide constructive feedback to investigators conducting scholarly projects in medical education, to enable their work and assist with identification of common pitfalls
  • serve as an adjunct to IRB review, reviewing a brief statement of intent in advance of IRB submission, in order to facilitate the subsequent IRB applications for projects that involve students as study subjects 
  • facilitate successful pursuit of educational scholarly work in the SOM
  • facilitate and support survey work, to maximize the chances of success, in the context of concurrent investigator and institutional survey tools 
  • provide a contextualized assessment of the proposed study, from the perspective of educational curriculum content experts


What is the process for requesting a project review by the Students as Study Subject (SAS) committee?

All scholarly projects or surveys in medical education that will recruit SOM students as study subjects will be referred to the SAS Advisory Group for review. This review will occur in advance of IRB review for those projects that may require IRB review.

  1. Investigators conducting the scholarly effort will prepare a Statement of Intent to Conduct a Study Involving Students.
  2. SAS Advisory Group review may provide general feedback on feasibility, design, and implementation to facilitate success within the framework of institutional guidelines and concurrent curricular work.
  3. The SAS Advisory Group will meet every 2 months to review proposed projects, with additional members to be added as determined by the scope of the individual proposed study. Additional meetings may be scheduled depending upon the need for more urgent/timely review.
  4. SAS Advisory Group Reporting Process
    1. The SAS Advisory Group will provide feedback to the study investigators with general recommendations regarding revision of content, as appropriate. It may also recommend that the researcher(s) consult with content experts in epidemiology and study design. Feedback will be provided within a 4‐week period in most cases.
    2. The SAS Advisory Group will provide a report of its activity on a quarterly basis to the Dean or to the Dean’s designee.
    3. The SAS Advisory Group will provide a report of its activity on an annual basis to the Faculty Council.

My project is really "just a case study". Are there guidelines for that kind of writing?

Case studies or case reports are valuable to ... medicine practitioners as they contribute to the evolving evidence base and disseminate important clinical information. The format of these reports differs from journal to journal; however they normally contain the following components: introduction, case presentation, discussion and conclusion (Frawley & Finney-Brown, 2013). The following articles describe the publication format for reporting a case study.

Frawley J, Finney-Brown T (2013). Writing for publication: Case studies. Australian Journal of Herbal Medicine 25(3). Retrieved May 16, 2016 from

Budgell B (2008). Guidelines to the writing of case studies. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association 52(4): 199-204. Retrieved May 16, 2016 from