Guidelines for the MSTP Thesis Coach Requirement

1. Why do you need a thesis coach?

Good mentorship is very important and highly valued. For most of us it is an acquired skill that can be learned and improved with experience. The MSTP thesis coach (previously referred to as the “senior co-mentor”) requirement exists for the benefit of both the student and the thesis mentor. It provides an additional input that is distinct from both the oversight responsibilities of a thesis committee and the financial responsibilities and potential conflicts of interest of the primary thesis advisor.

2. When do you need a thesis coach?

A thesis coach is required if your thesis advisor is an assistant professor who has not finished training a graduate student (MD/PhD or PhD) and has not yet achieved NIH R01 (or equivalent) funding. New tenure track faculty at Penn are well-vetted and selected after a careful search process focused on their potential to succeed as an independent investigator and research team leader. Their ability to be a good mentor for a thesis student has usually not been tested at the time that they begin. Having a thesis coach is intended to help them as well as you. Choose your thesis advisor (and get approval from Skip and your Grad Group), and then choose your thesis coach. The coach is there to help both of you do your jobs and learn better. If you are unsure whether you need one, be sure to ask Skip.

3. Why is it valuable to you and your mentor for you to have a thesis coach?

You benefit from broader mentorship experience while working with a newer faculty member. Your thesis advisor benefits by having a collaborative mentoring team structure to support your professional and scientific career development

4. Who should it be?

Your thesis coach is selected by you with input your thesis advisor to make sure that both of you are comfortable with the choice. The coach should be someone who has graduated one or more MD/PhD thesis students. They should be an associate or full professor and will usually be on the tenure track. The choice has to be approved by the MSTP director. The thesis coach can also be a member of your thesis committee. If they are not, they should attend your thesis committee meetings or review your thesis committee reports so that they have a clear idea of how your committee thinks you are doing. They need not be a physician-scientist. They should be experienced.

5. When and how often should you and your thesis mentor meet with your coach?

Meet no less frequently than every 3 months to review your progress. Your thesis advisor should be part of at least one of these meetings per year and may choose to meet separately with your thesis coach for advice and input on guiding your thesis to completion.

6. Does it really take a village to train a physician-scientist?

Definitely. A close relationship between a thesis student and their thesis mentor is very important and will hopefully continue well after you graduate. Having a thesis coach requirement fulfills NIGMS expectations for MSTP T32 training programs such as ours. It is also an important part of our belief that every MSTP student benefits from the oversight of an advising group that, depending on the phase of the program, includes the MSTP Director and MSTP Steering Committee, the leadership of their graduate group, their MSTP Program Advisor, their thesis advisor, their thesis committee, and the undergraduate medical education leadership team (UMELT).