Hi, I am Pragyan, an IMG from India. I have recently completed my internship and am currently preparing for PLAB 1. My experience in medical research ranges from being a principal investigator to assisting in ongoing research projects, and this blog is going to be from an undergraduate’s perspective.
The field of medical research is vast, with a lot to learn about. In this blog, I will share with you the ground reality of the whole process and a few tips I wish I had known before. I will cover the following in this blog:
● From interest to ideation
● Choosing a study
● The study period
● After completion
● Take home points
From interest to ideation
It is rare that students develop interest towards research in the early days of med school, largely because of a lack of a research-oriented environment. Awareness and taking interest earlier in life are most vital. I got my cue when I first decided to become an IMG, which is a good enough motivation for one to start.
An ideation step is where you are well motivated and already thinking about departments to choose from. Acting on your interest and stepping into ideation is a rate-limiting step in every student’s research life. This step is difficult because this is not pro-actively taught and is out of your med school routine.
Choosing a study
Most of us cannot think about research topics on our own. We need someone from the teaching staff of the department to provide us with a topic and guide us throughout the journey. You can choose between research papers, articles, case studies, etc. Just remember that you are looking for short projects (preferably a research paper) which is worth getting published in a good journal. You are allowed to say no to long and complicated projects which might end up wasting your time.
Now coming on to the most important aspect, i.e., authorship. According to ICMJE, the first author should be the person who contributed most to work, including the writing of the manuscript. But sadly, in many departments, authorship orders are unscientifically decided based on seniority. Being the first author of a paper holds the highest score in your portfolio self-assessment checklist. Therefore, you should let your guide know in advance about your requirement of the first authorship.
Mentioning yourself as principal investigator in institutional ethics committee application, application for any grant, or in any other documents where your name might have been written on top of the order of the participating researchers does not confirm your first authorship in manuscripts coming out of such research project. Though it may sound impossible, it is always advisable to get a signed document confirming your role as an author in the project.
The study period
After confirming the study type, research topic, and your authorship, draft a research protocol outlining the need of the study and your proposed methodology. Get the protocol approved by your institutional ethics committee. Do not let your guide be uninformed at any step, and always take help and guidance from them.
Once the IEC approves the study, start your project with the necessary approvals needed from the respective authorities, like the head of the department or hospital superintendent. One simple golden rule to follow during the study period is to collect as much data as possible directly or indirectly related to your project. Always collect demographic details and characteristics of the patient, like BMI, comorbidities, etc., as you might need them to compare different sample groups.
Collecting less data is harmful as you never know what you might end up needing while writing up the final manuscript. Keeping your data well-organised in an excel sheet throughout the study period is as fun as is necessary. Also, keep photographic evidence of your work and methods after obtaining consents and permissions wherever necessary.
During the final stages of your study period, start writing up the manuscript. Learn and perform appropriate statistical tests in software like SPSS. You can also take help from the statisticians available at your institution. For example, in India, you might find a statistician posted at the Department of Community Medicine in your institution. Once a final draft is prepared by combined inputs from you and your guide (or even a co-guide), look out for regional or national conferences where paper or poster presentations are being held. Many medical schools across the globe conduct academic or non-academic fests where one can present their study as a paper or poster.
Presenting your study on such regional or national platforms provide you the opportunity of being judged by experts. The questions and comments you receive from the judges after your presentation must be recorded and should be utilised to shape your manuscript and make it more publication-worthy. The awards won at such events improve your resume many folds. You can present at multiple such events, but once your paper is submitted for publication (i.e., after you receive comments from the journal editorial committee), you cannot present your paper anywhere.
It is better to publish in journals which are peer-reviewed, PubMed-indexed and have a print version. Do an internet search and make a list of such international or even national journals. You can only submit to one journal at a time. So, choose one and make changes to your manuscript according to its format. If accepted, a journal can take 2-4 months to comment, edit and publish your paper.
Take home points:
1. Step into research early in your med school.
2. Choose small, time-efficient research projects.
3. You are free to say no to large, complex, or time-taking projects.
4. Be transparent with your guide about your requirements and what you expect from the project, such as authorship and publication.
5. Try for research papers. Research articles and case studies are also beneficial.
6. Collect as much data as possible which may directly or indirectly be related to your project. Always collect demographic data and relevant patient characteristics such as BMI, comorbidities etc.
7. Present your study findings in paper or poster presentation events as much as possible.
8. Use the comments and criticisms you receive from judges at such presentations in shaping your paper.
9. Publish in peer-reviewed and PubMed-indexed journals.
10. Prepare letters and certificates with exact words as required by your portfolio self-assessment checklist and get them signed by your consultants or professors.
Need more tips and advice?
If you have any questions related to research activities and portfolio building, I would be happy to answer them at trewlink.com. You can register using this link https://trewlink.com/?referrer=pra8526. Find me as an ambassador and follow my profile –Pragyan Pratik– to receive regular support and advice.