Is Research for You?

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 3.10.47 PMDivya Manoharan, and Deepika Manoharan, address the question.
Whether research is up your alley or not will never be found until you endeavour and challenge yourself to experience it. There are so many options out there from laboratory research to secondary data analysis to clinical audits to literature reviews. Research will offer medical students a chance to taste a sample of the culture of medical academia and life as a scientific clinician. Most importantly, it’s an interim, risk-free opportunity at an early stage to investigate and explore whether a research career or a particular field is a good fit.

Every type of research will provide students with learning research techniques, exposure to latest methodologies and equipments, problem-solving skills, statistics, and besides all this, offers students a chance to use their time to chat with other research students, medical graduates, clinical fellows, postdoctoral researchers, and many other members of the faculty about science and scientific careers. Working in a multi-faculty research building will further enhance your exposure and provide you with the prospect to enquire about future research opportunities.

How do you find a project? This is a question we get asked frequently by many of our peers. The first thing you might want to consider is whether you want to stick to your university and stay close to home or try something adventurous and seek opportunities in other parts of the UK or even another country. This will probably depend on how much financial support you have. Once you decide on a location, you should contact supervisors within the chosen university, lab, or hos- pital. It is important to understand that you may experience a lot more negative responses and only a handful of optimistic acknowledgements, out of which may be one or two actually promising opportunities. This might be the most daunting and difficult process, especially if you don’t have any previous research experience. The most important point to remember is to keep trying and never give up. It is best not to choose a particular field to research in at this early stage (i.e. cardiovascular medicine, orthopaedics, etc.) as it would narrow your opportunities immensely. It is wise to open up your doors and take on any project that is being offered to you and is suitable to your time frame. Every project has umpteen skills and knowledge to learn, hence, you would never be idle. As a matter of fact, you might end up enjoying a field of medicine you never thought would interest you.Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 3.10.59 PM

It is also usually better to communicate with a supervisor in person, if possible, as it will allow both you and the supervisor  to converse more effectively and share each other’s expectations. Predominantly, most supervisors will disclose their recent publications, their areas of expertise, and provide thorough details on the research project you are likely to be involved in. Some supervisors might prefer having an interview as a way of finding out more about yourself, your interests, and your level of enthusiasm before accepting you on board.

Once you are accepted into a project, you have crossed a huge hurdle. Congratulations! You will usually be provided with a layout and a thorough overview of the details of your research project. If not, do ask. This information is vital for preparation purposes prior to the start of your work and if you want to apply for student bursaries or summer research stipends/travel bursaries. This is the next step you might want to attempt. The stipends will provide you financial support for accommodation and travel as well as allow you to contribute a certain amount towards your project if necessary. Some prestigious bursaries include; Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council studentships, Nuffield Foundation, and many more. Some of these bursaries might require you to be at a particular year of study while others may gear towards a particular aspect of research (i.e. cancer, pharmacology, dermatology, pathology, etc). Many of the bursaries are highly competitive; hence, if you are unsuccessful, it is absolutely alright, as the experience is what counts the most. Therefore, it is important to make sure you still have adequate self funding for accommodation and travel as a backup rather than solely depending on a bursary.

Furthermore, you should prepare yourself to commit to the research project for at least a minimum of 8 weeks, but to up to 12 weeks would be perfect. The longer you spend time on the project the more contributions you tend make towards the development of the project and the more recognition you are likely to acquire. If your supervisor believes you have made significant contributions to the research project, another layer of exposure to scientific culture often comes when students gain the privilege to have their name part of a paper. First-authorship is prestigious and looks fantastic on your CV, providing you with an extra edge on your foundation application forms and definitely when you approach future supervisors for research opportunities. Most importantly, students can improve their writing skills and understand the world of publishing and its rigorous, but rewarding, process.

However, even if you do not get a paper out of your research, there are excellent opportunities throughout the year to travel to national and international scientific meetings/conferences to present you work upon gaining acceptance through abstract submissions. Scientific meetings provide insight on research done by other students and academics, offer the opportunity to take a trip to another city within the country or elsewhere in the world, and allow you to meet some of the world’s best academics. Furthermore, participating at meetings will enhance your presentation skills, and permit you to understand the concepts of poster and oral presentations. Usually, most meetings encourage students by giving out prizes for the best oral and poster presentations. Obtaining a prize will definitely polish your CV and tip in some extra points in your foundation applications. Many of the conferences also have workshops you could participate in, such as, building a good CV, making prize winning poster, how to publish papers, and numerous other valuable activities. These are usually found to be very useful.

With a very competitive career ahead, it takes more than a good academic record, extracurricular activities, and positions of responsibility to stand out in a crowded medical graduate pool when applying to specializations, fellowships, or residency programs. A productive research work will take you a long way and set you apart from your peers.

Good luck and best wishes in your future embarkment in the world of research. “Follow your dreams, don’t chase them but catch them, and remember to always pursue with courage.”


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