Below, find some helpful information about finding a mentor and participating in research. For more information, check out our FAQs page.


How to Develop your Research Proposal and Application

Step 1: Investigate Research Opportunities

  • Start early and know your deadlines!! (Give yourself plenty of time)
  • Utilize online resources:
    • Office of Medical Student Research website
    • Office of Research Services website (
    • Departmental Websites (
  • Talk to other students:
    • Graduate or MD/PhD students may be able to direct your searches and recommend good mentors
    • The FAX Journal ( publishes abstracts from previous Student Research Days

Step 2: Approach Prospective Mentor(s)

Don’t limit yourself to one possibility; check out all research topics and mentors that interest you!

  • Email/phone mentors to request a meeting
    • Don’t get frustrated if they do not respond to you right away; most researchers are very busy and it may take them a few days to get back to you
    • If you have difficulties, contact the department administrator
  • Meet with your prospective mentor
    • Bone up a little on the project/research field before the meeting
    • Read a recent publication or two from the mentor’s lab
    • Read an article or two from the field for more background knowledge
    • Be prepared to answer questions, like:
      • Why are you interested in my research project/field?
      • What do you want to get out of this experience?
      • What are your prior experiences?
    • Ask questions, like:
      • What is the expected duration of the project?
        • Projects that can be finished in the allotted time are generally best
        • Consider smaller portions of larger projects
      • What is the anticipated time commitment?
        • Most grants require 40 hours per week, so make sure that the mentor’s expectations are similar (not more, not less)
      • Do I need any specialized knowledge or skills?
        • The project may require skill in a technique that takes a long time to adequately master, which will cut away from time you have to actually work on your project
      • Is this project based on work that is yet to be done?
      • How much contact will I have with you as a mentor?
        • You might learn you will have more interaction with a post-doc or graduate student than your mentor. If so, you will want to meet with that person to make sure they have the right attitude and are willing to mentor you
      • What are the overall expectations?
        • Get as much information as you can about the research environment
        • Establish your role early on
        • Presentation?
        • Publication?

Step 3: Apply

  • Your application will be comprised of five items:
    • Application form
    • Your biosketch
    • Your mentor’s biosketch
    • A letter of support from your mentor
    • A written research proposal (2-3 pages)
  • Work with your mentor on your proposal
    • Start early! You and your mentor are very busy and the deadline will “sneak up” on you.
    • Your proposal should be a product of your own work and not a “cut and paste” job from one your mentor’s grants – the review committee will be looking for this…
    • Ask for references and other materials to help get you started
    • Gain an understanding of the format expected for the proposal
    • Give your mentor and yourself enough time so revisions can be made.
  • Consider other possible application processes and their timelines:
    • Internal Review Board (IRB)
    • Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)


Why Mentors are Important

A good mentor is a coach, always challenging you, inspiring you and demanding that you do your best. Mentors can improve confidence and lead to job opportunities you had not considered. They are familiar with a range of professional opportunities and are guides who have put aside self-preoccupation to foster the growth of new professionals.

Mentoring relationships develop over time. Most of us have several mentors over the course of our careers: mentors for different areas (e.g., teaching and research) and at different times in our professional development (e.g., grad student, post-doc, junior faculty).

A mentor should:

  • Provide you with support and encouragement
  • Help you to learn from your mistakes
  • Offer opportunities for collaboration, joint presentations, and departmental talks
  • Help you to learn about writing and submitting manuscripts for publication
  • Be able to provide support and training in your career area
  • Model a successful academic career and training in your area
  • Be committed to help mentees make the next move in their career development
  • Demonstrate personal integrity
  • Introduce you to colleagues
  • Help you to identify and work with your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Provide opportunities for you to develop independence


How to Find a Mentor that is Right for You

  1. Research the possibilities. Ask yourself what areas of research interest you. If you do not have a particular lab or mentor in mind, you can search our list of available mentors. You can also contact our office for referrals. Dr. Nick Shaheen is happy to meet with students to discuss potential clinical mentors and Dr. Susan Henning is happy to meet with students to discuss potential basic science mentors. Appointments can be made by contacting Tiffany Durham ( Friends and classmates may also be able to suggest faculty members that have a reputation for being good research mentors.
  2. Narrow down your search. Once you have some likely mentors in mind, you will need to contact them to determine whether they are available for mentoring you. There is nothing wrong with approaching more than one potential mentor simultaneously. Your goal is to find a great mentor and research environment.
  3. Ask Questions. Find out as much as you can about the the research environment. Discuss issues such as who will supervise you (and are you comfortable with this arrangement)? How often will you meet with your faculty advisor (or will you mostly interact with another laboratory member; is the arrangement acceptable to you)? Will you be working in a project that might lead to a publication?The above questions are offered as a starting point. In our experience, most misunderstandings between students and mentors stem from a lack of clear expectations on these issues.Most students interview several faculty members before choosing a sponsor. You do not need to have an idea for a research project before you meet with a potential sponsor. It is the responsibility of the faculty member to suggest one or more projects, to explain in broad terms what each would entail, and to suggest a small amount of appropriate reading for each project (for example, a portion of a grant application or articles already published by the investigator on the same topic). When meeting with a potential sponsor you should also discuss who will be working with you on a daily basis and how your project will relate to other work being done by the group.
  4. Get to work! For students that are applying for funding through the Carolina Medical Student Research Program it is important to invest time in the application process way in advance of the deadline (February 8). Locating a faculty mentor and perfecting your proposal will take time, and you will be busy with your coursework, too.


Why Do Research In Medical School?

  1. A good mentor can be a valuable career resource.
  2. Research increasingly contributes to the way physicians treat their patients. The “bench to bedside” approach that is driving modern biomedicine suggests that research will have an even larger impact on medical practice in the future.
  3. Participating in research is a great way to get the opportunity to work with faculty and possibly foster a life-long relationship with a mentor.
  4. The faculty at UNC School of Medicine and all of the affiliated institutions excel not only in transmitting the knowledge, skills and caring attitudes required for a life in medicine, but they also contribute to that knowledge as leaders of research in a wide variety of basic science and clinical fields.
  5. Research training gives you a favorable advantage when applying for residency positions.
  6. Research training will make you a better physician with a sharper mind and stronger critical thinking skills.