[Guest Post] How to Kickstart a Fulfilling Career in Medical Research
Dear Readers, Jun-Li very kindly requested for me to guest post here, so I thought I’d do a
short introduction followed by a succinct post on how to kickstart a career in medical
research. I usually manage and write semi-regularly over at www.UKdoctoronFIRE.com
which started out as a website to help doctors obtain the MRCP(UK) diploma but quickly
grew to encompass anything medical, with a strong emphasis on managing personal
finance. In terms of training I’m a respiratory ST6 currently doing out of programme
research (OOPR) in airways disease in Scotland.
Like with medicine itself, clinical research has many routes for entry. Those who are very
keen might have already dipped their toes in the pond at medical school. Those who
discover their interest later on might begin their research project well after attaining their
certificate of completion of training (CCT). There isn’t necessarily a rush either way because
the quality of research matters as much, if not more, as the quantity.
In my humble opinion the easiest way to get started with research as a medical student,
foundation, core or even higher specialist trainee would be to approach an academic
consultant or professor in your preferred specialty. Be upfront and explain your situation
and interest in certain projects but perhaps have an expectation that your first project and
publication might not necessarily align with your final career goals. Similar to clinical
training, we start off at FY1s in general medicine and general surgery but many of us end up
as GPs or radiologists for example. With research, regardless of whether you’re a medical
student or consultant in clinical work, we start out as FY1s again and a solid way of thinking
would be one in which you’re willing to participate in almost any project that your professor
gives you. Later on, after a few publications, you can start picking and choosing and perhaps
even bring new ideas to the table.
Although most large teaching hospitals are usually affiliated with a medical school, I’m
aware a lot of readers will be working in district general hospitals (DGH) which have their
own challenges. However, another way you can view this is that it actually allows you to
work very closely with your clinical consultants than otherwise would be possible in a large
teaching hospital. In turn, your consultants almost certainly would be able to get in touch
with academic consultants in your preferred specialty of choice. In the era of covid-19 and
remote working, a simple 30-minute Microsoft Teams or Zoom call would be a nice
introduction to get started with a potential project that could kickstart a serious academic
With regards to applications for an academic foundation post, academic clinical fellowship
or OOPR experience during your registrar years, I don’t feel anyone should be discouraged
from applying even without any prior research experience. Along with the increasingly busy
clinical rotas and any free weekends and evenings spent juggling membership exams,
friends and family, there’s ample excuse for us to have prioritised our clinical training
especially earlier on in our careers. People who have intercalated or have a masters degree
may also be applying but the truth is that the majority of people and even those with
additional post-nominals may not necessarily have publications.
Before I finish off it might be useful for me to leave a few pointers for getting a publication.
Technically writing a paper and submitting this to journals can all be done independent of
location or clinical post, but anyone who has ever tried this understands how difficult it is to
muster the motivation to do so during the few precious hours away from clinical or studying
Assuming your first project will be a retrospective study, then data collection will be the first
step. This is the step probably most medical students will be involved in and the type of data
you collect will depend on the question you’re trying to answer. In the event of a
prospective study or a clinical trial, data is obviously collected in real time.
Once all the data has been assimilated, statistical analysis can then occur. Statistical Product
and Service Solutions (SPSS) is the most widely used software package for data analysis but
the free software R (https://www.r-project.org/) which is more difficult to use is free to use.
There are numerous videos to learn about statistical analysis and one of the best resources
is Laerd Statistics (https://statistics.laerd.com/).
The penultimate stage is writing the manuscript and although most of us may be decent
writers having gone through the education system, medical or academic writing is a
different kettle of fish. This style of writing is very factual based and also specialty specific so
can only be learned by reading what others write in your field.
Finally, the manuscript can be submitted to the journal before the inevitable “dance” that is
the peer-review process in which the reviewers offer improvements to your manuscript
back and forth before the journal decides whether or not they’ll accept your paper.
Thank you very much to Rory from www.UKdoctoronFIRE.com for writing a guest article for us! I think this is great advice for junior doctors thinking of an academic career coming from a registrar involved in research and it has been insightful talking to Rory on the topic. Leave any comments or thoughts below!