Scholarly Projects Plus


Joseph Neighbor

In recent decades, the Amazon Basin has seen an increase in cases of human rabies, most often caused by bites from Desmodus rotundus, the common vampire bat. Benjamin Stoner-Duncan’14 wanted to know why. Having studied ecology before beginning medical school, he funneled his interest into his scholarly project but soon discovered that an issue of such magnitude and complexity required more than the four months set aside for scholarly projects. He was accepted into Scholarly Projects Plus, a new program that allows students to take up to 10 months of their senior year for extended research under the guidance of a faculty mentor.

“Scholarly Projects Plus is a pathway for students who are particularly qualified and motivated to do scholarly work of significant duration and depth,” says Jonathan Amiel, MD, associate dean for curricular affairs at P&S. “By focusing on scholarship, not just research, this new program allows students to engage in a broad continuum of work, from molecular systems all the way up into societal level, even global and geopolitical.”

All medical students meet with Dr. Amiel in the summer of their major clinical year to draft personalized plans for their scholarly projects, choosing one of six tracks: basic science, clinical research, global health, population health, narrative and social medicine, or medical education. With the help of the senior faculty track director, students are paired with a mentor who lends the project a sense of scope while providing direction and focus.

“The great thing about Scholarly Projects Plus is that it’s not discipline-specific,” says Jennifer Punt, VMD, PhD, associate dean for student research and director of the scholarly projects basic science track. “The scholarship moniker allows students to think more broadly, from clinical research to the humanities.”

Two students in the Class of 2014 and two students in the Class of 2015 have chosen the extra time provided by Scholarly Projects Plus. The program does not extend medical school; the extra scholarly project time replaces other electives.

The extra time was important to Mr. Stoner-Duncan for a project requiring international travel, foreign ethics committee approval, and the collaboration of the Peruvian Ministry of Health. The project also demanded a diversity of expertise, as evidenced by Mr. Stoner-Duncan’s choice of mentors: Daniel Streicker, PhD, a well-respected disease ecologist at the University of Glasgow, and Christopher Tedeschi, MD, P&S assistant professor of emergency medicine, whom he approached for “his interest in international and wilderness medicine, his academic acumen, and his excitement for cross-disciplinary collaboration.”

“We’re trying to find risk factors for human predation,” says Mr. Stoner-Duncan. “Specifically, in examining whether open-air housing, proximity to deforestation or livestock populations, or beliefs or knowledge about bats are correlated with outbreaks. I am interested in the root causes of these outbreaks and in elegant and creative solutions that could lead to informed vampire bat-rabies control strategies.”

Mr. Stoner-Duncan sees this project as the starting point for even deeper inquiries. “Much of my work to date has included laying the groundwork for future investigation, building relationships within Peru, and scouting locations for ongoing data collection,” he says. “The extra months have given me the time to expand the project and submit our first manuscript for publication, while preparing for a second field expedition once the rainy season ends in northern Peru.”