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Research - Finding a Project

Geriatric medicine involves all organ systems in the context of ageing and disease. Geriatricians also have a strong interest in improving the quality of healthcare of older people. Therefore, the research possibilities in our specialty are unusually diverse, from lab-based molecular biology projects to health services research. Because of this, collaborations with researchers from other medical specialties are common.

There are several routes to setting up a project. Often trainees are offered a research opportunity by a senior colleague who has a project in mind. Otherwise, with some ideas of the kind of research you might like to do, you need to find someone with research experience in your desired field to speak to about it. If there is no one available locally, perhaps a senior colleague has contacts elsewhere. You could also make contact with key researchers, perhaps at a BGS scientific meeting. A Medline survey can reveal researchers active in your field: virtually all would be delighted to hear from those who share their interest.

Once contact with a potential supervisor has been made, think through the following key components of a successful period of research before committing yourself:

(1) The project:
this should fit with your areas of clinical and scientific interest and also the kind of research you think you'll enjoy doing. For example, you might prefer patient-based investigation to lab work. You should also think about the final outcomes of the project. By definition any scientific investigation involves uncertainty, but some projects are heavily based on methodologies which are not properly developed. In our opinion, inexperienced researchers should aim for a project which will yield interpretable results (negative or positive).

(2) The supervisor:
this should be someone who has an established track record of successful publications in respected journals (check on Medline) and grant applications. Your supervisor should also have a good reputation with research students - speak informally to as many researchers as possible - and should be someone with whom you will get on.

(3) The institution:
aim for a centre with an established track record and with the infrastructure to support your work.

Funding your project
Next, you and your supervisor (usually with other collaborators) would probably need to write a grant application to provide your salary and other research expenses. Funders include the British Geriatrics Society (see main webpage), the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, Research into Ageing, the Alzheimer's Research Trust, the Stroke Foundation, the Chief Scientist's Office in Scotland, and the British Heart Foundation. Virtually all require the applicant to have passed the MRCP or equivalent, but a training number is not necessary. You need to think ahead: writing the application takes weeks, and funders take months to reach a decision. Therefore, the application should be submitted about a year before your intended period of research. Overall, it's a painstaking process but it's a wonderful feeling when you receive the award letter.

Alisdair MacLullich
Miles Witham

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