In my previous blog, we discussed why it is important for medical students and trainees to consider research collaborations outside their own institutions, and what types of research studies can be performed using this type of collaboration between young researchers. In this blog, I will focus on how to find potential collaborators and/or join a multi-institutional team of young researchers.
Once you decide to explore this non-traditional way of doing research, the first challenge you will be facing is how to find potential research team members. At this point, you need to take a step back and ask yourself 2 essential questions:
- “What area(s) of research am I interested in?” – This will largely be dependent on the particular specialty you are interested in pursuing as a career, and whether you have a general interest in this specialty or a more focused area that you would like to explore.
- “What skillsets can I bring to the table in such collaboration?” – No matter how novice you are in medical research, you can always be a valuable team member provided that you are willing to learn, work hard and acquire new skills. But it is essential for you to know exactly what you can or cannot do, to be able to find your right position within a team. A successful research team requires a myriad of skills, some are basic, such as searching the literature or collecting data, some are more advanced, such as conception of research ideas or scientific writing, and others are specialized, such as relevant statistical knowledge and competency in using a statistical software or experience with using one of the databases that we previously discussed e.g. National Inpatient Sample (NIS).
Answering these 2 questions will help you present yourself in an honest and practical way to your potential collaborators, and will ensure that you achieve the 2 fundamental goals of any collaboration: to benefit and to be beneficial. It also gives you an idea about what potential skills you can work on acquiring to increase your value as a team member.
Now that you know what you want and what you can offer, it is time to find your collaborators. The easiest and most straight-forward way is to collaborate with people that you had previous experience with, like your medical school colleagues, or co-residents from your previous training program who have similar research interests. However, this may not be an available option to you, so what to do in this case? – If you are still taking your very first steps in the research field, you would be better off joining a team that is already established rather than building a new team. There are several ways to identify multi-institutional research teams that are already up and running:
- Word of mouth – you may have heard about one or more resident or fellow who does this type of research, and in that case, you could reach out directly to them.
- Medical literature – you could search within your field of interest for recently published meta-analyses, systematic reviews, or articles that use one of the publicly available databases that we mentioned, and examine the authors’ list. What you would want to look for are articles that are authored by people affiliated with different institutions. Next step, would be to look up some of these authors on PubMed and see if that same group of authors (or some of them) publish these types of articles frequently together. Once you identify a particular group of collaborating authors, then you could look them up to check if they are mostly residents and fellows.
- Social media – this is another great tool for research collaboration. Twitter, in particular, is becoming an invaluable platform for sharing medical knowledge and recent research articles. Many of the currently active research groups promote their work on Twitter, and using the same process we just discussed, one can easily identify active members of these groups and reach out to them directly. Further, many researchers nowadays reach out on Twitter when they need young motivated medical trainees to help out with ongoing projects. So I would strongly encourage you to get on Twitter if you haven’t already done so and to start following people with similar research interests.
At this point, you know your research field of interest, you are aware of what you have to offer as a research team member, and you have identified potential research team(s) that you would like to be part of. You should be ready to reach out. What is the best way of presenting yourself? How can you maximize your chances of success in joining a team? This will be the topic of my next blog. So stay tuned…
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Amr F. Barakat is a Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh, PA. He is invested in academic electrophysiology and clinical outcomes research, and is a believer in the role of social media in medical education (tweets @AmrFBarakat). He volunteers for the AHA FIT & Early Career Blogging Program.