How to Get Published and Be Successful

By Ajay Shah


2nd year medical student Ajay Shah, writes about the anxiety surrounding lab research and publications- something all medical students can relate to!



“Have you done any research?”

             “Yeah actually I have a publication in the Canadian Journal of Obstetrics, I spent my summer doing a meta-analysis for Mount Sinai”

“Oh, so do you want to do obstetrics?”
               “No, I just managed to get the position through a friend. I don’t actually care about it, research is kind of boring” 


I’ve had this conversation with so many students, at St. Andrews and otherwise. It seems to be hammered into us from an early age. “Get published, get hired” is the prime directive for stethoscope-wielding youth. For Canadian students, the pressure is multiplied, as the prestigious residency positions will only accept the most credentialed, cited and publication-producing students.



So, we slave. I am no exception to this rule, I write from my experiences. In high school, I spent most of a year doing a research project at Princess Margaret Hospital. Today, if you saw me standing with my poster at conferences, you’d be smitten by my passionate descriptions of MTS Assays and In silico analysis. If you saw me back then, in that stuffy lab from 5-7 PM everyday, micropipetting row upon row, redoing protocol due to calculation errors, waiting for colonies to incubate, you’d feel nothing but pity.


‘you’d feel nothing but pity’

And that is the reality of lab research. It is boring. You will fail. Even when you do everything right, you will get negative results, contamination, and false positives. My project looked at the role of microRNAs in human breast cancer cells, and we received negative results with the first two microRNAs we tested. After 8 months in the lab, we concluded that microRNA-449 levels were correlated with tumour viability, then found 4 genes that potentially contribute to tumourigenesis. Peanuts, in the big picture – but another tree planted in the forest of cancer research.

-‘Even when you do everything right, you will get negative results, contamination, and false positives’-

I am not trivializing lab research, nor am I insinuating that incremental accomplishments are meaningless. I can imagine nothing more fulfilling than conducting scientific inquiry into one’s passions. I am simply trying to relate a feeling I had to one that many of you may experience, the feeling of purposeless disappointment. The infinite thought loop of “What exactly have I accomplished?” to “Was that a worthwhile use of my time?” to “What did I gain from that?”, rinse and repeat.

I believe that feeling arose because I was doing research for all the wrong reasons. I was doing that project to get my name on a paper to improve a university application to increase my odds of getting a slightly better education which would, theoretically, ultimately help me achieve the abstract notion of “success”. The idea of success instilled in us by our superiors, mentors and role models, a concept I could hardly visualize, let alone materialize. My search for material scientific findings had an ulterior purpose, and my findings therefore seemed purposeless and immaterial.

-‘that feeling arose because I was doing research for all the wrong reasons’-

So to all those go-getters doing research this summer: I beg you, be wary. If you lack passion in your topic, and are simply doing research to get published, think twice. Perhaps an unpaid shadowing position may help you learn more, think more, and gain a sense of purpose. Or perhaps this mental purgatory is a necessity that we medical students must pass through on our journey – jumping through hoops, dotting I’s and crossing T’s, going through the motions, as we wait for our careers to begin. Whatever it may be, I suppose it can’t hurt to ask – “Hey, do you know anyone hiring students to work in a research lab?”


If you are interested in a particular medically-related topic, please submit your article to As per usual, there is no deadline!



OMG Bacon Causes Cancer! (When Pigs Fly…)

By: Ajay Shah (2nd Year)


In our first article of 2016, Ajay Shah writes about his experience with the news headlines’ exaggeration of research paper results and discovering how to interpret them.



On October 26th, 2015, the results of a new study rippled across social media and news outlets. Sensationalist Twitter hashtags and Facebook posts lamenting its results dominated the cyber landscape. Sales at supermarkets and grocery stores fell by millions of pounds in the following weeks. Thousands of people swore off their favourite foods in the panic, hoping to bargain for a few extra years of life. What could this study have discovered to cause such a viral reaction throughout society? Well, of course, it showed that bacon causes cancer!


Hold up. What? One of the most universally loved foods in the world (Americans consume 18 pounds per capita annually), cast aside by a suddenly health-conscious population, just because of one study’s results? How could this have happened? As is often the case, the culprit is not those responsible for creating the study (they just did the science), nor the general population (we just read the articles). The culprit is far more insidious, something capable of unnecessarily inspiring fear into millions of innocent people. That culprit was The Headlines.



I woke up that morning to see a short BBC notification on my phone declaring that red meat causes cancer. Confused, I called my girlfriend as I skimmed the article.


“WHAT??” said my girlfriend when I read the headline to her, likely picturing morsels of steak morphing into tumours as they passed through her colon.

“Yup, the WHO has declared that red meats cause colon cancer. It’s true – even the BBC is reporting it,” I replied.


After some quick research, and reading headlines and tweets such as:
“OMG! Bacon causes cancer!” (New York Post)

“Processed meats rank alongside smoking as cancer causes — W.H.O. U.N. health body says bacon, sausages and ham among most carcinogenic substances along with cigarettes, alcohol, asbestos and arsenic.” (The Guardian)

“Bacon, hot dogs and processed meats cause cancer/are as dangerous as smoking, says @WHO.” (PBS)


the alarm bells began to ring. My girlfriend quickly swore off processed meats for life, and limited red meats to one meal per week. I, an avid meat-eater myself, decided not to let The Headlines fool me, and began to do some research of my own.




As I had suspected, the initial reaction to the study was quite overblown. In fact, the first paragraph of the WHO report itself says that “red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans based on limited evidence ”. “Limited evidence” means that, while a positive correlation is present between the exposure (meat) and outcome (cancer), other explanations (confounding factors, bias, chance) cannot be ruled out.


The findings are based on an assessment of more than 800 studies, which gave more weight to the studies with larger sample sizes, fewer confounding factors and better experimental design. Approximately two thirds of the case-control/cohort studies showed a positive correlation between eating processed meats and colorectal cancer incidence. It was found that eating 100g of red meat per day raises colorectal cancer incidence by 17%, while eating 50g of processed meat daily raises incidence by 18%. Both types of meat consumption were also linked to pancreatic, prostate and stomach cancer.


Personally, I think that the study was very well-conducted and is a fantastic example of “Good Science”. The researchers importantly identified a mechanism of action, identifying known carcinogens produced during the cooking of meat, and postulating that these compounds lead to cancer formation. They also examined a wide range of studies under specific criteria, minimizing the influence of confounding factors and bias. The different types of meats were classified appropriately, and suitable recommendations were made.



Upon reading the WHO report, I felt quite upset at the media for their treatment of the story. The WHO researchers were quick to reassure, suggesting that a reduction of processed meat consumption would be a preferable alternative to widespread vegetarianism. Indeed, they identified the valuable nutrients and compounds in red meat, and after contrasting these with the increased cancer risks, officially only recommended cutting down red meat consumption to 70g daily. This is a stark contrast to the doom-and-gloom picture portrayed by the media.


An increase of cancer incidence by 17-18% may seem like a lot, and with the media’s handling of this report, any meat eater would do a double-take before chowing into that cheeseburger. However, this “relative risk” looks a lot different when put into perspective. It is estimated that, among 1000 people who eat little-to-no processed meat, 56 would develop bowel cancer during their lives. Comparatively, of the 1000 people who eat the most processed meat, 66 are expected to develop bowel cancer during their lives. Indeed, the 17% increase seems miniscule when compared to smoking (2,400% increased risk) or drinking alcohol (500% increase). And this ignores the fact that red meat offers many healthy nutrients, which may overpower the carcinogenic effect in some. Regardless, red and processed meat now joins an increasingly cluttered list of carcinogens, including aloe vera (Class 2B), the Sun (Class 1) and Air (Class 1), some of most dangerous things known to man.



So, throughout the journey from “my bowels are full of carcinogen-induced tumours” to “eating meat probably, might, slightly increase the risk of developing a tumour in my large intestine”, I learned a lot about clinical studies, the media, and The Headlines. I learned that “carcinogen” is a broad term, and a subatomic particle that may be essential to the fabric of our reality (neutrons) is also a known human killer. I learned that clinical studies completed under similar conditions could have polar opposite results. But most importantly, I learned that in a world dominated by clickbait headlines and diminishing attention spans, the onus is on us to do our research, and Rewrite the Headlines.


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Research at the Medical School

Compiled by Divya Manoharan and Deepika Manoharan.

Research, in general, is vital for the development in knowledge and to promote advancements and alterations in our practices. Medical research, in particular, will Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.33.28 PMimpact us all as it is one of the key areas responsible for further understanding the many aspects related to the longevity and well-being of humanity. Imagine dying from a runny nose, not knowing the physiology behind hypertension, living with no cure to malaria, not having a vaccination for polio, or being blind because of no treatment to cataracts. We take most advancements in surgery & medicine for granted and most improvements become a routine part of our day- to-day life, but none of this would have been possible without the world of research which comprises of people with innovative minds, continuously asking questions and digging deeper to find the answers.

The research in our medical school is no different and comprises of a world renowned multi-disciplinary team working in various aspects of medical research ranging in several topics such as molecular medicine, disease mechanisms, community health, ethics, medical education, and psychology. The new building also provides the ideal infrastructure and facilities required by our staff to sustain, develop, and make further accomplishments in medicine.

Some of the research staff were kind enough to take time out of their busy schedule and provided us with some insight on their current and future projects,  interests of study,  and achievements.

Continue reading “Research at the Medical School”