By: TJ Pothuraju
Research. Some people hear this word and are excited, some people hear this word and are terrified/lost. This guide is mostly for the latter, but also the former as well. At the beginning of last year, I was overwhelmed by the thought of research. I only had one research position before this, and I did not do much with it. It was in basic sciences (wet lab), and I did not like the time commitment or how tedious my task was (cell culture). I was also frustrated with how quickly my project encountered problems (bacteria contaminated my project and I missed every deadline and goal). I didn’t get any publications, and only gave one poster presentation at my university. This presentation didn’t go well either. When it came to clinical research, I had no idea whatsoever. But now, I have slightly more experience with research and realized it’s not scary. I want to share with you what exactly is research, research opportunities that are available, and how to find a research position.
What is research?
First, there are two types of research: primary and secondary. Primary research is conducted directly by you and your team, and new findings are presented. This can either be experiments, reviewing charts, finding new trends, etc. Secondary research, such as reviews and meta-analyses, are also important as they summarize other people’s studies that have been conducted, and provide the reader with more context. Secondary research is a big part of the research community, but as a student, primary research is usually what you will find and is also what will help build your research resume for future research opportunities and for residency applications (which may seem like looking too far ahead, but it’s good to keep the bigger picture in sight). If secondary research is what you want to do, contact the USF RISE office, and they will help you get set up and find a mentor. The rest of this article will mostly discuss primary research.
What type of research is good for a student?
There is one decision you will have to make: Do I want to do clinical research or basic science (wet lab research)? There is no right answer as for what is better. Chart review, case studies, randomized control trials are all examples of clinical research. Clinical research, especially chart review, can sometimes be done remotely with your computer (depending on the institution) and is usually less time intensive. Even though it is less of a commitment, usually you can get great papers published in good journals this way. It is usually easier to publish multiple studies, due to it being mostly dependent on statistical analysis, not experiments. Clinical research isn’t always a low time commitment, as studies with a lot of patients will take a lot of time still and randomized control times can take years for data to be available. If you are concerned about time, and especially because COVID-19 is restricting face-to-face interaction, remote clinical research may be your best option.
The other type of research is basic science research. This research typically does not involve human subjects. Culturing cells, working on proteins kinetics, or terrorizing lab rats are examples of basic science. This research can be time consuming as it requires you to be present in person and can be tedious. Also, there is more opportunity for things to go wrong with experiments. However, this research is also very important, as almost all modern clinical interventions were first researched in a basic science lab. Certain fields of medicine also look very favourably on basic science research, such as neurology, ophthalmology, and immunology. The findings can be groundbreaking, and lead to publications in prestigious journals and have many citations. So while it takes a lot of work and can often fail, its rewards can be pretty high.
How to find primary medical research?
This is probably the most stressful part. How do you find primary medical research? Well, to assure you, there is plenty of research at USF, Tampa General Hospital (TGH), and Moffitt Cancer Center. I’d like to think there are about 3 good ways to find research: email, research and interest group meetings, and contacting RISE (Research, Innovation & Scholarly Endeavors).
The traditional way is to email. Look up professors who published in a field you are interested in or conduct research that excites you. This can be done by looking up the different departmental or institutional websites and looking at their professors and research they conduct. (here is a useful link: https://health.usf.edu/medicine/research/mcom). Or you can search PubMed for articles published by USF, TGH, or Moffit. Read some articles (or just the abstracts) and see what you are interested in and willing to do (ex. Basic sciences or chart review; experimental or retrospective studies). Then, send emails to the professors, using proper email etiquette, with your name, year in school, and state your interest in conducting research. It would be good to mention the articles you read, and how you would like to conduct research in that area. This method may not have the highest success rate, so don’t feel bad about sending multiple emails! The Principal Investigator (PI’s) will understand if you find other opportunities, and they certainly won’t hold it against you! This is how I found my research during my undergraduate program, and I sent out around 10 emails before I got a response. But the important part is that I got it. The other option is to respond to emails looking for students. But make sure you are quick and specify your interest, other students will respond quickly too! Make sure you distinguish yourself by explaining your interest in the field/research method.
My personal favorite way to find research is to speak with PI’s, residents, and other students at meetings: introduce yourself, state your interest, and be enthusiastic and polite. Send an email after meeting with them, stating again who you are, your interest, and how it was nice talking to them. The facial recognition and in-person (or via Zoom or Teams because of the COVID-19 situation) goes a long way and adds a nice personal touch. If you do this method virtually, make sure you’re wearing appropriate attire (and pants!) and turn on the camera! I found my research speaking to a resident after an interest group meeting. He told me to email him, which I did. I didn’t hear anything back for a few weeks (people in medicine are busy), but when I did, it was an email saying I got put on a project! There are many opportunities to meet people involved in research: research conferences, interest group meetings, grand rounds for specific departments, etc. Just find events that interest you, and network there.
The other method that a few of my friends have used to find research is meeting with the RISE department. Set up an appointment online (use this link: https://usfhealth.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9LxCL6t2ST8SEvj) or email Dr. Rahul Mhaskar. The department is going to be your best friend for research, whether it be to find research projects or help you while you are on your project. They are free to use (well, included in your tuition), and want to see you succeed. Their goal is to get students published and ultimately help your residency application. They look good when you look good! Go in, mention what fields you are interested in and/or what type of research you want to conduct. They will point you in the right direction, and you will be well on your way to starting research on something .
Research shouldn’t cause you unnecessary stress. Your first focus is learning the material needed to be a successful healthcare provider. Focus on school, and if you find that you can make time, research is a good opportunity to expand your horizons and learn new skills. For those who are pursuing competitive specialities, research is important, but don’t sacrifice too much for it. Hopefully, this article has provided you with more insight as to how to get research, and you will be able to start pursuing it if it interests you. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact RISE (RISE@usf.edu) or me personally (firstname.lastname@example.org).