ISP Handbook

Components of the Traditional ISP Proposal

Every student must submit an ISP proposal to the Electives Committee for approval. The proposal must follow the format presented below.


The necessary forms are available on the ISP Tracking Site. They include:

Form 1 - The ISP Chair Declaration.  This form indicates which faculty member has agreed to chair the ISP committee.  This form is due by March 1 of the third year.

Form 2 & 3- Committee Member Declaration.  This form indicates which faculty member has agreed to chair the ISP committee.  This form is due by May 1 of the third year.

Form 4- Project Information & Written Proposal.  This form indicates which faculty member has agreed to chair the ISP committee.  This form is due by May 1 of the third year.

Form 5 & 6 - Committee Member Approval A & B.  All committee members are expected to complete the approval form, indicating their willingness to serve and their review of the proposal.  This form is to be completed by each committee member and is due on or before May 1 of the third year.

Form 7 - The ISP Chair's Approval Statement.  The chair of the ISP committee must complete an Approval Statement as part of the ISP proposal due on or before May 1 of the third year.  The Chair Approval Statement must include:

  • Student's specific role.  The ISP chair should provide a statement describing the role of the student in the project.
  • Role of each committee member.  The ISP Chair should identify what involvement each committee member will have from the beginning of the project until its completion.
  • How the student's work will be evaluated.  The ISP chair should specify the criteria that will be used to evaluate satisfactory completion of the student's work and achievement of goals.  These criteria should follow directly from the defined goals of the project, in addition to addressing the overall goals of the ISP as enumerated in this Handbook.  Regular meetings between students and faculty are strongly encouraged, and written progress reports from the student may be used to ensure that the project is on track.
  • Feasibility.  The ISP chair should determine whether the project can be completed within the time allotted.  This determination is critical to ensure a student's success.  Projects that depend on data or equipment that are unavailable at the time of the proposal often result in difficulties and wasted time.  It is advisable to be sure all necessary components are available before the beginning of the project.

Form 7a - Human / Animal Subjects Investigation Form.  If the ISP involves animal subjects, the project must be approved through the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee before it can be started.  If the ISP involves human subjects in ANY way, it must be approved through the Human Research Protections Program (HRPP) before it can be started.  Even such projects as reviews of medical records or secondary analyses of existing data (even without seeing or talking to the patients) must be approved through the HRPP.  Students should not hesitate to contact the HRPP directly if they have any questions.

It is preferable to get the appropriate human or animal subjects' approval before the proposal is submitted to the Electives Committee. However, while it is always necessary to have such ISPs approved by the appropriate approval office before they are started, proposals may be submitted to the Electives Committee while approval is pending.  In order to comply with Federal, State, and UCSD laws, regulations, and policies, all student work involving human or animal subjects (performed at the University or other locations) MUST BE registered and approved with the appropriate office. The actual applications for human or animal subjects approval may be obtained at the websites below.

Questions regarding the use of human or animal subjects should be addressed to either:

UCSD Human Research Protections Program (


UCSD Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (


Generating the Written Proposal

Proposals should include the following components. If the proposal meets the basic requirements and addresses the following issues, approval is usually forthcoming without problems.

  1. Title. The proposal should include a title indicating the subject of the study.
  2. Abstract. The proposal should include a brief (approximately 250 words) summary of the project.
  3. Background. The proposal should include a concise summary of the background literature that provides the context and rationale for the proposed work.
  4. Definition. The project itself, the rationale, and the goal(s) must be clearly defined. If the proposal is for scientific research, the guiding hypothesis must be clearly stated. If the proposal is for a community service or education project, the scope of the project should be clearly defined.
    • What are the goals of the project? The project must address a specific issue or question. The definition of specific goals at the outset will facilitate the development of an appropriate strategy for completing the ISP.
    • What is innovative about the project? The project should attempt something new. A project could be considered new by asking a novel question, proposing an innovative method for answering an old question, or developing and/or testing a new tool for medical instruction or patient care.
    • How is the project relevant to a career in medicine? The only restriction on the subject matter in the ISP is that it must have relevance to medicine, health care delivery, or other area of medical inquiry. With a little creativity, the possibilities are limitless. Previous projects have ranged from molecular biology to public health issues.
    • What is the student's role in and time commitment to the project? If the student formulated the question and an approach to its solution, this should be stated in the proposal. If the student is joining a project already in progress, the student's role should be clearly defined: activities that will be performed by the student and the level of effort on the part of the student should be clearly specified. The time frame and commitment to the project should be specified. To fulfill the goals of the ISP, students, at a minimum, should be expected to expend considerable effort over a three to six month period.
  5. Methods. The methods by which the project and the goals will be accomplished should be clearly described. The proposal should demonstrate that adequate thought and consultation have been given to designing the study.
  6. Evaluation. Clearly state how the project will be evaluated. How will the project termination point be identified? How will the success of the project be judged? How were the defined goals (see #4 above) accomplished?

Note: The Electives Committee assists in developing a proposal that fulfills the requirements of a valid Independent Study Project with regard to academic content and the specific role of the student in the project. Please see the Project Resources section for Electives Committee contact information.

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