Deep Explore

The Deep Explore, which can span from 12 to 20 weeks, comprises the major component of the Inquiry Curriculum during Career Launch.  All UCSF medical students are required to complete a faculty mentored Deep Explore Project during this time in which they carry out a substantive scholarly exploration of a topic related to human health. In most cases, projects will require students to develop hypotheses or research questions, gather and analyze data, and derive and defend conclusions. The work can be done in any of the UCSF Six Domains of Science (Biomedical, Clinical, Social and Behavioral, Epidemiology and Population, Education, or Health Systems Sciences). Additionally, bioethics, public policy, or even creative writing or other artistic projects may be acceptable as long as they are thematically aligned with human health.

Aims of Deep Explore

Inquiry is the lifelong process of challenging current concepts and creating new knowledge, or comparable scholarship. Each step of the UCSF Inquiry Curriculum advances the learner - first to a sophisticated consumer of biomedical science and then, in Deep Explore, to a producer of new knowledge.

Deep Explore has three aims:

  • To support students in a project that speaks to their own passions and advances the frontiers of knowledge;
  • To give students a mentored experience that offers them a bond with a faculty member;
  • Through the experience, to help students attain competencies in proposal-writing, critical thinking, scholarship and communication.
The Requirements

An independent piece of scholarship during medical school is expected of all learners in the Bridges Curriculum. Students can potentially satisfy this requirement by:

  • Enrollment in and completion of a degree granting program that includes a thesis (e.g. PhD, MPH, MAS) while a medical student at UCSF.
  • Completion during Career Launch of an independent, mentored project, 12-20 weeks in duration.

For questions, and to see if a particular activity you are considering would meet the Deep Explore requirements, contact the Inquiry Team.

The Deep Explore Project Experience:

We anticipate that many students will carry out an individual, original mentored research project or other scholarly pursuits. We encourage a mentored experience with a diversity of topic choices, as outlined below.

  • The mentor will generally be a faculty member at UCSF (if the mentor is from another institution, the student will also choose a co-mentor from the UCSF faculty).
  • We seek to help students find and carry out novel original projects that speak to their individual interests and enthusiasms. Examples include but are not limited to: 

    Basic, translational, clinical or population-based research

    Creative project that concerns the field of medicine, e.g. Narrative medicine

    Implementation science or health care delivery

Publishable systematic review or meta-analysis of a clinical topic

Quality improvement projects

Curriculum development

Community-engaged projects

  • Recognizing the value of team science, we will gladly consider projects submitted by a small group of students (usually two or three), so long as a significant and verifiable creative role for each participant is clearly outlined in the proposal. You should work with your Inquiry Advisor to craft such proposals. 
What’s a Good Project?
  • Novel – it hasn’t been done before .
  • Independent – in the sense that you have your own individual objectives to pursue, even if the project is part of a larger program
  • Important - the results could change the field  
  • Interesting to you – something you’ve wanted to think about and work on
  • Feasible/tractable -  e.g., you have the tools/time to answer it in 3 – 5 months
  • Developed in close collaboration with a good mentor
Proposing a Deep Explore Project

Step 1 - Find a Mentor and Project

Many resources are available to help students find a Deep Explore project. UCSF Faculty Profiles shows both the publication record and research support for full-time faculty and can be filtered to select for faculty who have proposed student projects.

The six Inquiry Advisors were carefully selected for experience, know-how and commitment to students and will help students identify an area in which they wish to work, then find a mentor and project in that area. Inquiry advisors will give students preliminary feedback on the project idea before the Designing Clinical Research (DCR) course.

Step 2 - Take the Designing Clinical Research Course

The Designing Clinical Research course (DCR) in March (after the STEP exams) is constructed to give students a mentored experience in proposal design and writing. In the course, the proposal will grow from an idea to a polished finished product, with input from a small group leader and fellow students (much of the learning comes from sharing the experience of discussion and revision of one another’s draft proposals). 

Step 3 - Proposal Review

The final proposal and optional application will be read and approved by the student’s DCR small group leader and/or a panel of reviewers. The submission will include a mentor agreement as well as the proposal itself. Criteria for approval will include novelty and feasibility of the project, the mentor agreement, and evidence that the necessary support will be available to the student. 

Carrying Out the Project


  • Deep Explore will be listed as a course (Deep Explore 118) and students can list blocks as short as two-weeks or up to one-month in succession when completing their schedules. Students should schedule at least 12 weeks; up to 20 weeks is available for the project during Career Launch


  • In April of your graduation year you will complete a Request for Deep Explore Credit. The request will include an Abstract and Poster describing the project, a mentor evaluation of the project, and any supporting materials – publications, manuscripts, meeting abstracts or other creative materials. These will be reviewed by your Inquiry Advisor. It is also an expectation that graduating students present their posters at the Inquiry Symposium.


  • Up to five blocks of Career Launch (20 weeks) are available for the Deep Explore project. The blocks will generally be discontinuous because of clinical tiers, residency interviews, etc.


  •  Your Inquiry Advisor stands ready to assist if you run into difficulties with your project or mentor, and will treat them as confidentially as does your coach. In case of difficulties with Deep Explore, you may also turn to your coach for help; with your permission, your coach and Inquiry Advisor will work together with you to deal with any challenges.

Check in Sessions with Inquiry Advisor

  • Students are expected to participate in periodic research progress check-ins with their Inquiry Advisor during Deep Explore or Yearlong Funded Research time, generally between Fall and Spring of graduation.  

SPAN in Deep Explore

  • You may schedule up to one half-day SPAN session per week during Deep Explore. Special provisions will be made to complete SPAN for students whose Deep Explore project takes them away from UCSF for a protracted time.


Completing the Inquiry Deep Explore Experience
  1. Registration, notation on schedule, and satisfactory completion of 12 weeks of IDS 118 in the following quarters:
    • Spring (Career Launch 1-3)
    • Summer (Career Launch 4-5)
    • Fall (Career Launch 6-9)
    • Winter (Jan/Feb only – Career Launch 10-11)
  2. Two Inquiry Competency-based assessments by the mentor. The first assessment is sent automatically at the project mid-point, and a final assessment is collected in the April of your graduation year.
  3. Attendance at project check-ins with your Inquiry Advisor between September and March. 
  4. Poster Presentation at Inquiry Symposium in the Spring.
  5. Assessment of Abstract and Poster by Inquiry Advisor.
  6. It is encouraged, but not required that you publish your work in a peer-reviewed medical journal, which can occur after graduation. 
Frequently Asked Questions

If I build on my summer project, can I be credited with the weeks I spent during and after the summer?

Yes, if your Deep Explore project expands upon the concepts of your Summer Explore grant, meets the requirements of the DCR Course, and is approved by your Inquiry Advisor, those weeks can be credited towards your graduation requirement.  Generally you cannot apply summer research time to your Deep Explore requirement.

Are students ever approved for less than 12 weeks of Deep Explore during Career Launch?

Only in special circumstances. Consult with your advisor. Students that participate in the Inquiry Fall Courses (Global Health, Health Professions Education, Health Equity and Racial Justice) can count those course weeks towards their Deep Explore requirement.

If I do unfunded yearlong research, will that satisfy the Deep Explore requirement?

In most cases a yearlong project will easily satisfy the Deep Explore graduation criteria.  Students should apply for Deep Explore well in advance of graduation so that they are certain it has been approved for credit before they complete their schedules for the graduation year. Contact the Inquiry Team for more info.

What if things are not going well in my project – or in my life?

You will be assessed on effort; a project that doesn’t yield the expected result or is negative may be perfectly acceptable.  Occasionally an intervention with the mentor is necessary, or health or other important personal or family concerns intervene during your project.  Both your coach and your inquiry advisor will be of help in working through these issues, and they will work together with you towards a good solution. 

How does an application for yearlong research work in Bridges?

UCSF has funds to support approximately 25 students annually with a stipend to cover living costs during a year of research. View the Guide to Yearlong Research.  The application process for year-long research funding from UCSF is parallel to the process for Deep Explore funding; deadlines, application forms and review criteria are similar (see the timeline above).  Students applying for yearlong funding will take the DCR course in March and use the course to develop their proposals. Funding is also available from several outside sources, most prominently the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the NIH, the Sarnoff cardiology fellowship, Fulbright grants and specialty societies. All these have fall or January receipt dates. Details about funding and deadline can be found on the Inquiry Funding Office website.

What is the Deep Explore requirement for students returning from gap year for research (not funded by IFO)?

Students that take a Leave of Absence (LOA) for unfunded research will be sent a survey in the spring of your return so that we can work with you to figure out how your LOA for research might work towards the DE requirement. It will mostly depend on how many weeks you engaged in research and the outcome of that research – did you complete a manuscript, were you published, etc. If you have questions regarding the below options, please contact the Inquiry Team with further questions.

There are three options for when you return:

  • Complete all of the DE requirements by spring of your graduation year.
  • If your mentor/PI can confirm that you did at least 12 – 20 weeks of research, you would be exempt from the research weeks requirement, but you would still need to submit an abstract/poster of your work for approval and present your research at the Inquiry Symposium in spring of your graduation year.
  • Apply to the MDwD program at the start of your LOA (info sent out via Forums each July) and meet these program requirements. Students in the funded yearlong program complete these same requirements. Information and application link will be sent out via Forums each July.

Are students allowed to engage in research activities outside of their Deep Explore and Yearlong projects?

Yes! As long as the outside research does not impact the completion of your project requirements, you are allowed and encouraged to work on other research. For further questions, contact the Inquiry Team.

What should I do if I need to change my Deep Explore mentor or project? 

If for some reason, you need to change your mentor or project (post submission of your DCR proposal), please complete this Project Addendum form. Your Inquiry Advisor will need to approve the change. For further questions, contact the Inquiry Team. If you need assistance in finding a new mentor or project, contact your Inquiry Advisor directly.