Have you ever thought about doing research?

This blog is based on a session that Oly Todd and Susan Shenkin ran at the RCPE Medical Careers Symposium, and feedback from a stand manned by Mary Ni Lochlainn at G4J. They tweet @ToddOly @SusanShenkin @younggeris

  1. How do you know if you are interested?

Being excited by science and lifelong learning is a common reason for many of us choosing to go to medical school in the first place. If what you like about your job as a clinician includes:

  • asking ‘why?’
  • answering clinical questions
  • being asked what you found and what you think of your findings
  • wondering what is best for your patients
  • working alongside other personality types with different skills and perspectives

You might enjoy research…

  1. What might a research career look like?

This can include a huge range of methodologies: basic science (laboratory work, animals, human samples); imaging; data analysis; systematic reviews; clinical trials; epidemiology; qualitative methods and more.

Research can be part of every clinician’s career, whether you are:

  • research aware (using findings from research in your clinical practice)
  • research active (recruiting your patients to take part in research studies, or contributing time or data to studies led by other people)
  • research leader (designing and leading studies to answer clinical questions)
  1. How do you go about pursuing research?

Go boldly

  • Seek to engage a research clinician whose work interests you and who enjoys supervising.
  • Express an interest (in person, by email or twitter) and follow up, noting your area of interest, the time you have available and what you hope to contribute and achieve. Include an up-to-date CV.
  • Get involved wherever you are: if you do a project, try and present/publish it. Think local, regional, national, international – start with local and work your way up!
  • Be open – don’t rule out anything – try out different research methods.

Be realistic

  • Design a task that is realistic in your timeframe (which is often short), agree a process and deadline with a supervisor.
  • Realistic first projects may include:         
    • Quality Improvement Project or Audit – aim to present your findings
    • Interesting case report
    • Systematic or narrative review of an area of interest (see here)
  • Present your work to others e.g. poster at British Geriatrics Society event (regional/national); Geriatrics 4 Juniors Conference; or the BGS blog.
  • Write it up for publication to share it more widely and to get experience of scientific writing/publication process

Make friends

  • Mentors: choose a critical friend, meet as regularly as possible and focus on your agenda, not theirs. A peer mentor (someone at the same stage of training as you who has already done some research) can provide useful guidance. Find one who suits you on the AEME website.
  • Work with people who either have different skill-bases or more time (e.g. supervise medical students).
  • Get involved in the Geriatric Medicine Research Collaborative – become a local lead for one of their national projects and be listed as a collaborator on their publications.
  • Collaborate with successful research teams – even outside your specialty – consider asking a geriatrics-related question of non-geriatrician data.

Skill up

  • Like any skill, formal training helps. Check out what courses are available locally in your area. There are a wide range of research courses available, particularly in university-affiliated teaching hospitals.
  • All geriatric trainees need to do a research methodology course. Some examples include RCPE or Newcastle BRC
  • NIHR Good Clinical Practice (GCP) training is an excellent introduction to the ethical and scientific standards for research.
  1. How does a research question evolve?

If you enjoy research, consider doing a MSc with a related project, a small project funded by a BGS Start-up grant, or pursuing funding for a PhD Fellowship from a major research funder such as Dunhill Medical Trust.

  1. Choose a research topic – it can seem daunting to come up with a research idea, but others will often have projects to offer that you may find interesting. You may come up with an idea from what bothers you in your clinical role; use curiosity and day-dreaming, present your idea to critical friends. This must be something that you can feel passionate about.
  2. Develop a research question – at best, this is an iterative process, informed by a feedback loop including literature review, research friends, incorporating a realistic study design in a particular setting with a particular question. This takes time.
  3. Develop a research plan – time scales are always longer than you expect.

Overall, keep an open mind, and remember your love of science, enquiry and quest for answers to help patients and their families…above all, enjoy whatever you do and remember: thinking about writing is not writing!


Great advice, all of which is applicable to our nurse and allied health professionals too.

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