This FAQ is for clinicians who want to get involved with research, but aren’t sure where to begin or how to start. I hope you find this little FAQ useful.
Do I really want to do research?
Yes, research is fun. You should absolutely get involved! Most people get involved with research to (1) gain research experience, (2) become a better clinician, and/or to (3) generate academic products such as a presentation or a published manuscript. Other goals you may have could include: to become an expert in the given field of interest, or to obtain grant money.
If you are interested in becoming involved with research, take a moment to assess your personal goals and expectations. Are you interested in doing research to better understand the scientific method? To learn more about a particular subject? Or, perhaps, because it’s a requirement of promotion or with your program?
As with all career development activities, it’s important to keep in mind your end goal. For example, if your goal is academic promotion, read the research required activities, discuss the requirements with your faculty development office, and ensure you align your study or research participation with those requirements.
How do I decide what to research?
Inspiration can come from anywhere if you are looking for it. When you are first deciding on a research project, keep your mind open to the possibilities. Remember, we are looking for a problem to solve or a lack-of-data in a specific situation or field.
First, consider any personal experiences that you have had that lend themselves to a good research project. You may have had a patient experience or experienced a lack-of-data on a specific diagnosis or treatment plan that you use–any of those could become the basis for a research project. You can also do a pre-literature review to find gaps or lack of knowledge in particular areas. You are looking for an area that needs more information—a problem to solve.
Perhaps you have a clinical suspicion or a clinical problem with limited treatment options, or a lack of consensus of practice. Perhaps you want to improve how a specific process occurs. Often your research project will start organically from a challenging patient, a difficult situation or a simple comment.
Research doesn’t start with “Eureka!” but “huh, that’s funny.”
Find your own “that’s weird” moments and write them down—it could be your next research project! Brainstorm ideas for potential research problems and find something that interests you and will move your field forward!
How do I narrow down my question?
Once you have a general idea worth pursuing, do a literature review on the topic and find out if someone else has already solved the problem for you. Pay attention during your literature review to refine your research question and generate a valid hypothesis.
Don’t forget to say your PRAERS: Problem: What problem am I interested in? What question am I trying to answer? Reason: Why should someone care about this? Action: What action do I plan to take to answer my question? What is my experiment? Expected Results: What do I expect to happen? Results: What actually happened? Summary: What conclusions can I draw from my results?
How do I get a study team together?
Now that you have a solid idea, develop a team that is interested in exploring the question with you. When you consider building your team, the following people may be of benefit to your project: mentor, statistician, clinical research coordinator, technician / research associate, collaborator (outside expertise), administrative assistant, grant specialist, IRB specialist, research business office consultant.
What happens next?
There are several things you will need before you start your research, most relate to your overall experimental design. First, you may want to consider creating a project charter, and other project management documents. Next, you’ll want to develop a detailed protocol for your research with references. Next, you’ll need to consult with your statistician for a sample size or power analysis to ensure your study data is valid and useful. You’ll need to strategize a clean process for recording all of the data you will produce—and ensure you have a plan for a proper statistical analysis when all is done. These are just a few things you’ll need to do to get your research started. Consult with your study team and your mentor to ensure you are on the right path.
Research studies can develop from simple clinical questions or random conversations—be open to the research possibilities in your daily life. Developing and refining your research question will help you to develop a testable hypothesis–be open to revisions. Put together a rock-start team to help expedite your research project and avoid any unpleasant visits from the IRB. Lastly, don’t overestimate the literature review. Putting the time for a quality preliminary literature review and hypothesis will help with every aspect of your study from startup study design and approaches to your research question to your final data analysis and publication.