Scholarly Pursuit and Thesis

by Michael Bernas
Scholarly Pursuit and Thesis Program Director

This article was originally published in the March/April issue of the Tarrant County Physician. You can read find the full magazine here.


Have you ever been curious about an unknown in your practice? Do you ever find yourself thinking “what if…”? Have you always been curious about doing a little research, but not sure where to start? If so, you may be interested in participating in a research project with a medical school student from the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine. 

The program is called the Scholarly Pursuit and Thesis (SPT) course and it is a four-year research project that all students at the school undertake as part of their education. It was designed for students to explore medical research, practice critical inquiry, and use medical information literacy to become patient-centric physicians with life-long curiosity and learning skills. The course begins with students reinvigorating their curiosity and questioning skills. This is followed by some basic research training, including literature searching and appraisal skills, research question development, and human subjects training through the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative program. Program faculty will help develop these skills and assist students throughout their research projects.

Many students have prior experience with research from their undergraduate or post-college education. During the first year, students work with their mentor to produce a prospectus that is similar to a small research grant application, detailing project parameters. During the next two years students work on projects with their mentors, and in the fourth year they produce a thesis as well as a poster for a public presentation.

Some common questions from potential research mentors include:

What is the role of the mentor? The mentor acts as a guide to the student in the research project. He or she will assist the student in designing the research project and often help with providing data or access to data for research. The mentor will work with the student as they monitor data collection and interpretation, will be available for questions, and will assist the student with the final thesis conclusions. 

What areas and topics are appropriate for student research projects? Mentors and projects can come from any field (see Table). The only requirements are that the project is researched effectively, includes some sort of intervention or examination (experiment, chart review, product design, data collection, etc.), has a good plan for analysis of results, and includes a discussion of the results with potential application and questions for the future.

How does a student decide what research project to do? Generally, there are four ways to develop the projects. Firstly, the mentor may already have some ongoing research that the student can join or carve a piece from. Secondly, often mentors have some questions that they have been curious about and want to explore further. Thirdly, students sometimes have their own specific question to start with as the basis for their project. Finally, after some discussion concerning issues and questions in a specific area, the mentor and student can design something completely new. Whatever way the decision is made, communication between the mentor and student helps drive this process. 

How much time will this take? Time with the student will vary from project to project and there are no specific program requirements. Overall, the mentor needs to commit to working with the student for four years (projects chosen and designed at approximately end of semester 1 and thesis submitted at approximately end of semester 7). However, during this time, due to obligations and schedules of both, this could mean meeting almost every week in some labs (approximately one hour) to perhaps only meeting every two to three weeks for some clinicians or mentors. As the project progresses, there may be less need for frequent interactions until data review and analysis. We anticipate that mentor-student meetings will also include some “life lesson” discussions and the potential to develop a lasting relationship.  

Do I need to have experience as a researcher? No, there are no requirements for prior experience, only your willingness to work with the student.

Does the student need to publish a manuscript on the results? There is no requirement that the students publish a manuscript before they graduate. However, it is the expectation that the majority of student projects will result in publication in addition to abstracts and posters/presentations from project results as appropriate.

What are the benefits to me as a mentor? All mentors will receive an academic appointment with the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine. In addition, you get to work with an enthusiastic and curious student for four years, who will perform most of the work. The curriculum design provides education in basic science (year 1) and clinical training (year 2) in an accelerated fashion, producing an experienced mini-physician to enhance your research team. Finally, students will have educational experiences throughout North Texas with the potential to share or expand your research. 

How do I learn more? This article is just an introduction. For more detailed information and any questions, please contact Program Director Michael Bernas at m.bernas@tcu.edu. 

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