We get loads of questions about how to improve your CV whilst a student - and one that always comes up - How do I get involved in research?
It’s all too easy to heap huge amounts of pressure on yourself to get publications at increasingly early stages in your training. Everyone’s had the conversation about some unnamed person with ‘10 (ten) publications and they’re only in fourth year’. However, university comes with a significant work load and getting involved in research can be tough. Remember there’s also plenty of time to get involved in research in your foundation years!
If you are looking to get involved in research now, be clear with yourself as to what your aims are. Your approach should be guided by what interests you and what you need to do to achieve your career goals. What specialty are you interested in? Do you want to be an academic? What skills do you need to demonstrate to a potential employer? ‘Person specifications’ are available online for each specialty to give you an idea what they might expect.
Realistically COVID-19 will mean much of what is discussed below may not be possible in practice. However as things (hopefully) get back to normal with time, it will become relevant again.
Why it’s important
Publications are a great way to demonstrate an active interest in the academic side of medicine and commitment to specialty. Unfortunately, opportunities are often sparse as a student - and as you probably know there is a fair amount of luck involved. The actual process of publishing is a great experience to have - and you’ll learn a lot. But be prepared for rejection and revisions.
Points are available in FPAS for publications with a Pubmed ID. The maximum you can score on the Educational Performance Measure (EPM) is 50 - the most you can score from publications? 2. Though the points may help you get the job and location you want - other factors are clearly more important. Only 5% of the graduating class of 2019 submitted two publications for FPAS.
Looking forward to applications for higher training (e.g. surgery, medicine, GP), publications become more important and can help set you apart from the field. Getting involved in research in your student years will help you make the most of the more abundant opportunities afforded in clinical practice.
How to get involved
Ask! If I could give one piece of advice it is to ask. On a placement or special study component (SCC) in an area that interests you? Get to know the team. ASK the house officers, registrars, consultants and professors. Do they have any projects? Are they planning any audits? Do they need help gathering data or completing a literature review? Be prepared to be brushed off - but eventually if you’re keen and demonstrate an active interest, opportunities WILL come your way.
Say yes! At an early stage in training don’t become too focused on only getting involved in the perfect project. Be open to smaller projects that may just result in a poster presentation - or even go nowhere! You will gain invaluable experience - as you get more senior, you should become more discerning as to which projects you get involved with.
Be reliable. It can be difficult to balance work-life commitments. So when you do get involved in a project be honest about how much time you can spend on it and try to meet any deadlines that may be set. Once you’ve established yourself with a team and shown you can be reliable further opportunities often follow.
Intercalation. It offers a great opportunity to get involved in clinical and lab-based research. It’s not for everyone (except at unis where it’s mandatory!). You need to be sure you want to spend an extra year at university and there are financial implications. However, most will include a dissertation project, which could lead to a presentation, poster or publication. Personally, it was the source of my first publication and medical prize.