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School of Medicine Columbia

Student Opportunities for Academic Achievement Through Research

This competitive program provides a research experience to USC School of Medicine Columbia medical students during the summer following their first year.




Program Components

The Student Opportunities for Academic Achievement Through Research (SOAR) program is a full-time research experience provided by basic science and clinical faculty which constitutes an important element of a well-rounded medical education.  Students will learn how basic research integrates with clinical practice, moving science from “bench-to-bedside”. The program provides an opportunity for students to get involved in a research project to which they can make a positive contribution. 

Students are required to present their research to faculty and their peers during the Graduate Student Seminar series in the fall following their research experience. Furthermore, students have the opportunity to earn a certificate in Advanced Training in Translational Research. 

Program details

  • Applicants must be enrolled at USC SOM and completing their first year of medical school.
  • Prior research experience is not required.
  • Most students will need to complete required training before the beginning of the program but this will vary based on the project and student. 
  • Students must participate for a minimum of 37.5 hours per week for 8 weeks between mid-May and late July (exact dates of the internships are determined by the student and mentor but do not need to be consecutive).
  • Selected students will receive a stipend of $2,500 for the 8 week period of training.  
  • Attendance to SOAR Seminars is mandatory.
  • Students must present their project findings during the Graduate Student Seminar as well as during the spring research event.

Information for Faculty Mentors

  • Faculty mentors must describe their project idea(s) on the Faculty Application. Projects must have IRB/IACUC approval (if necessary) before the beginning of the program. 
  • The selection committee will match selected students with a project based on mutual interests. 
  • Selected faculty mentors will receive $500 to help defray the cost of research.

Frequently Asked Questions

This depends on the amount of funding available as well as sponsorships received. An average of 20 – 30 students are awarded a spot in the SOAR program each year.

Our program solicits projects from researchers across the spectrum, from basic science done in a lab,  to clinical studies conducted at the patient bedside, all the way to population research using big data or meta analysis.

We have matched students to faculty/projects in behavioral sciences, emergency medicine, genetics, internal medicine, neuroscience, oncology, orthopedics, public health, surgery, and more. We partner with investigators at USC and Prisma Health but also with external organizations to provide students with an experience that will broaden their research interest. 

Applications typically open in November/December. Link and application information will be added to this page. Additionally:

  • Student application- The application link for the student application will be sent out via email by the Department of Student Affairs. Students can also access the link located in the Med School Minute Newsletter.
  • Faculty application - Faculty can access the application link sent via email by the Dean’s Office.

In addition to general information, the student application asks questions about your current interests and future goals. Specifically, you will be asked to provide:

  • A brief statement of your career goals
  • How the SOAR program will impact your career
  • Description of previous research experience, if any

This information is shared with an external review committee. All applications are de-identified and reviewers score each section using a standardized rubric. Reviewer's scores are averaged and the highest scoring applications are invited to participate in the program and matched with a faculty/project.

In addition,  some information is collected but not shared with reviewers. This includes demographic information for reporting purposes and additional questions on your research interest. If selected to participate in the program, research interest questions will be used to match you with a faculty/project. 

High scoring applications tend to be honest, specific, and thorough. this is a short application so you need to make sure every word you include has an impact. Avoid general statements, platitudes, and buzzwords. Lastly make sure that your response actually answers all parts of the prompt. 

In addition to general information (name, department, etc) this application requires specific project information. This includes:

  • brief project description and the role of the student
  • expected student outcomes
  • Research type/keywords
  • IRB/IACUC status

Remember that the SOAR program only lasts 8 weeks after which the student should have enough data/experience for a short podium presentation. Although we know that research never goes fully according to plan, we find that successful projects tend to be more fully developed and either in or approaching the data collection phase.  

On their applications, students indicate their interest and prior experience as well as any specific requests. Students selected to participate in the program are matched to faculty submitted projects based on these responses.

Matches are typically made in order of student application scores (higher scoring applications are matched first). The program prioritizes student’s indicated interests but specific requests cannot always be accommodated.

No. Due to the selection and matching process of the program, we do not pre-assign students to any one project or faculty mentor.

In the SOAR program, students and faculty submit separate applications. Faculty are asked to submit projects that a student can work on during the 8 weeks of the summer research internship and these projects should have IRB approval (or waivers) before the start of the summer. If the project requires any special skills, those can be listed in the application so we can make sure to only assign a student with those specific skills.

Yes. A department can guarantee that they receive a student(s) if they choose to sponsor the students’ stipend.

This is a process that is followed by the external partners that we work with each year. To ensure we make matches for these sponsored slots, we usually match them first, working through the student applications in order of score until we find a good match. If more faculty submissions are received than the number of funded slots for that department, we will still consider the additional applications in our regular process (unless asked otherwise). This does not guarantee that a specific student will be matched with a specific mentor or department, but it does increase the probability.

No. Other than required compliance training, students should not be actively working on their SOAR projects until the kick-off date which immediately follows final exams.

The $2,500 stipend will be split into two installment check payments of $1,250. The installment schedule is discussed with students during the Student Information session held in May.

Faculty mentors employed with the USC School of Medicine or Prisma Health can request up to $500 reimbursement for project costs/supplies which may require completing the USC supplier onboarding process. These are processed using the USC reimbursement guidelines.



Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.