A Med-Student’s Guide to Research! – Kiran Abbas ’20
Over the last couple of months, many juniors have approached me, asking about how to conduct research, prepare a paper and then publish it! Unfortunately, due to time and space constraints, I was unable to answer in detail to everyone who approached me! Thanks to JSMU Student Council, I have been given this platform to put forth a guide that will help you conduct research, devise a manuscript and then publish it before you graduate.
Before I start, I want to make one thing clear that even though research is not mandatory at undergraduate level it is an extraordinary tool that will not only take you 10 steps ahead of your colleagues but will also open realms and doors you have never entered before. So, never undermine the power of a well-designed and well-written paper.
The journey is long and tiresome, I know. But, follow these steps religiously and you will not get disappointed with the results.
- Coming up with a research topic; Conception of the Research Title
- Literature Review
- Study Design; Methods
- Pro forma or Questionnaires; Materials
- IRB approval
- Pilot Study; Validating the Questionnaire
- Data Collection
- Data Entry into SPSS
- Data Analysis via SPSS
- Data Interpretation
- Preparing the draft; Manuscript
- Presenting the Abstract
- Publishing the Manuscript; Which Journals to Target?
- Pro tips
Let’s dive into each one of the above mentioned steps. Shall we?
Step 1. How to Come Up with a Research Topic?
This is a tough part! It is like having to choose your specialty. None of us know which field we want to specialize in. Either we don’t like any field of medicine/surgery or we like ALL of the fields. In both ways, you are screwed!
To get you out of that dilemma, I have come up with a simple formula i.e. “the topic of your research should be directly proportional to your undergraduate year”
I have categorized the type of research topic according to the undergraduate levels:
- Freshmen (First Year Students): I would recommend that instead of marching ahead with no artillery, how about you just assist in ongoing research for now? You might have some seniors with excellent research skills and experience in your institute. Go to them and ask if you can be a part of their research. Beware, for sometimes, seniors just use their juniors to do their grunt work and then don’t give them authorship. If you are putting in a lot of hours into a research project, make sure you get some sort of credit for your work.
- Sophomores (Second Year Students): At this stage, you are ready to take your research experience to a test drive! Go on, choose a very easy to a mild topic. Ask your friends who are interested to join in. Brainstorm over ideas. Come up with a mutual SUBJECT/FIELD that is both easy and interesting. Now, go on the internet, open up google scholar, use some random keywords related to your field, check out the latest breakthroughs, etc. You can also use previously done researches in a different setting. That means, let’s say someone in the USA conducted research on breastfeeding. Now, you decide to conduct this same research with little amendments in your own setting. This works because you have altered the genetic, environmental, ethnic, and regional parameters. This is the easiest way for you to choose a topic and start your research.
- Junior Years (Third and Fourth Years): These students are usually confident about their research skills and tend to choose complicated topics over easier ones. To do that, you must bring forth a few of your colleagues (NOT NECESSARILY FRIENDS). Brainstorm ideas that interest both your group members and yourself. Don’t pick mundane, redundant, repeated topics such as depression, anxiety, etc. One tip is to rely on Google Scholar to give you an estimate on how frequent your potential topic is. Neither chose a topic that is very common nor chose a topic that is very rare because then you won’t be able to find literature on it.
- Senior Years (Final Years): It is highly advocated that final year students should team up with doctors and help them out in their ongoing research projects instead of starting afresh research project on their own. Why? Because research is a long and tiring process which takes a lot of time and energy. Even if you manage to finish your research on time, publishing it would still take months to years. This is for those students who are planning to give their STEPS or any other foreign license board exam. They need quick publications especially, in international journals.
Once you have established a topic in your mind, read about similar topics, make notes, read the previously published researches. Come up with a finely formulated research topic.
Let’s look at an example:
I am a third-year student who is highly enthusiastic about human psychology. I love learning about people, reading them, making conclusions about them. As a third year student, I am not aware of the subject psychiatry that links human behavior to pathology. However, I can conduct a study at my university where over 1000 students come to attend classes every day!
What do I want to study? What exciting phenomenon, I want to study on my selected population? Can I research on depression in medical students? Let’s open up google and see if anyone has done research on this topic!
Looks like depression in medical students is a very commonly explored topic. Over 2,750,000 results have been found for this topic! So, should I move on to another topic? Not yet! Let’s see how many of these studies are from within Pakistan.
Over 44,000 results have been found! Now what? It seems like there is nothing new you can add to the scientific community. It is better to move on to another topic.
This is how your mind should work when you are looking for a topic! This will work even better if you have a group of smart and passionate students who are able to think out of the box!
Sometimes, the research topic comes to you instead of you going after one! Back in the second year, I was doing electives in LNH, and there was a patient diagnosed with chondrosarcoma of the spine 6 years ago. Over the last 6 years, he had undergone recurrent surgeries because his tumor kept recurring! He declined all other therapies. I got very curious about this patient. I went home and did some basic research about chondrosarcoma, its etiology, prognosis, treatment, etc. I got so involved in that topic, I ended up publishing a narrative review on it in an International Journal of Oncology. Not only that, I presented my review in over five different conferences including Cancer Symposium 2017 at Shaukat Khanum Cancer Research Center, Lahore.
The key is to be curious. A true researcher is always observant and vigilant. Anything that excites you, makes you go “wow”, gives you goosebumps, makes you wonder, or lit your eyes, can be your next research topic!
Next up, we are going to talk a little about authorship!