Frequently Asked Questions



Who is the research advisor of my Medical Student Research project?

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

Must I do my MSR at Penn State Hershey?

Projects may be performed at any qualified research facility, as long as this is defined in the proposal and approved by the Committee.  when an off-campus research advisor will be responsible for the actual supervision of the project, the student must also have an on-campus sponsor (this can be your academic advisor); 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 advisor has questions.

Note that if your project involves human subjects in any way, then human subjects research approval is required from the local IRB, AND from the Penn State Hershey IRB.  You will need to provide the IRB abstract from your research advisor and a copy of your sponsor's approval letter to our IRB.  Approval MUST be granted BEFORE beginning your involvement with the human subjects.

Click here for more information about human subjects research.

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


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.  Research in medical education that you intend to report publicly (for example, in an MSR Final Report) does require IRB approval.

Click here for more information about human subjects research.

My research supervisor in Africa has local IRB approval for her research.  Do I really need IRB approval from Penn State Hershey?


The IRB must review and approve research conducted outside the United State 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":

Click here for more information about human subjects research.

Can I receive academic credit for my research work?

Academic credit is available, but not required, when a student uses specific elective time to conduct his/her 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 clinical rotation AND a Medical Student Research project simultaneously?

Data acquisition and data reduction for a MSR project while abroad requires a full time commitment to the research project on the part of the student.  While the MSR Committee supports students spending time abroad in clinical settings to acquire international perspectives on health care, it is virtually impossible 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?

The decision to pay you while working on your MSR project is at the discretion of your research supervisor.  Please recognize that research funding is extremely difficult to obtain, and research supervisors may not have funds to pay you.  Students fortunate enough to be paid while working on their MSR project typically are working on their project full-time during the summer after the first year of medical school.  Limited federal work-study positions are available for summer work as well.  Students may not be paid while enrolled in research electives for academic credit.

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

First, congratulations! Having your work selected for national exposure is a true honor.  Unfortunately, The MSR Project does not have funds available to send students to meetings.

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?

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. (The outline of an MSR Final Report can be found here.) 

I participated in biomedical research before medical school, and I am a co-author on a paper that was published based on this work.  May I just submit a reprint (or a copy of the manuscript) for consideration of an exemption?

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 a report on the work modeled after our MSR Final Report.  (The outline of an MSR Final Report can be found here.) 

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

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

How do I identify an on-campus advisor for an off-campus project?

The easiest way to identify an on-campus advisor 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, whether you are taking on a manageable part of a project, or whether your effort will meet our requirements).  If you already have someone you work closely with here, and they are comfortable serving this additional role, that is also fine.

PLEASE NOTE:  Conducting an off-campus project involving human subjects comes with additional requirements:

If IRB review and approval is required for the off-campus research advisor by his/her local IRB, then you, as a representative of Penn State, are required to obtain IRB approval at this campus, too.    Specifically, you should provide the IRB abstract, Form A and a copy of your advisor's approval letter to our IRB.  It must be filed before beginning your involvement with the research.  Click here for more information. 

Does my previous research qualify for an exemption?

Previous research conducted outside of an academic program may qualify for an exemption if the following conditions are met:

  • The work was published in a peer-reviewed journal
  • You are a co-author on the published work
  • The work is biomedical in nature
  • The work is hypothesis-driven

The procedure for requesting an exemption can be found here.