AHA 20 had a fantastic session titled “Building Your Brand” and it provided excellent insights on how to be a successful researcher in academic medicine. Panel participants Dr. Erin Michos, Dr. Louise McCullough, Dr. Andrew Landstrom, and Dr. Pradeep Natarajan shared their stories on how they got involved in research and the lessons they learned along the way. While the session focused on fellows in training, I will present my viewpoint on how these general principles are applicable to early-career physicians (ECP). Based on this session, I have developed a step by step approach.
When is the right time to get involved in research?
No doubt, it is good to start as early as possible, but it is never too late. Residency is the ideal time to get involved in the research. This head start allows you to explore different areas of research, find what interests you, and at the same time allows ample time to acquire skills needed to conduct research. For ECP, this means if you already started research during your training you are on the right track. If you were not exposed to much research during training, you can always start now.
Step#1: Start now.
How to get started?
The significance of finding the right mentor cannot be over-emphasized. It is important to meet different potential mentors and get to know them. This allows you to assess overlapping areas of interest, learn how research shaped their careers and most importantly get inspiration from their journey. For an ECP, it is important to work with different mentors that can develop you in different areas of research. These mentors can be across different institutions in the country.
Step#2: Find your mentoring team.
What skills are needed and how to acquire them?
“Writing” and “Statistics” are the two most important skills needed for any type of research. There are multiple ways to acquire these skills depending on how much time you want to invest. Most of these skills can be acquired by taking online classes or a degree program. Most academic programs offer classes in scientific writing, epidemiology, biostatistics, clinical trial design, and grant writing. For an ECP, if you think you will be doing research throughout your career, consider getting additional training through a master’s degree in clinical and translational sciences or in some cases a PhD.
Step#3: Acquire scientific writing and statistical skills.
What are the effective strategies for manuscript writing?
Writing the first draft is challenging but it is important to write it quickly and not worry about perfection. Start by writing the methods, followed by results, and leave an introduction and discussion to the end. Feedback from your mentor and collaborators will improve the paper.
Step#4: Write the first draft quickly, following this order: methods, results, introduction, discussion.
Quality or Quantity?
While it is ideal to always conduct high-quality and novel research projects, in-reality all such projects need research funding. Therefore, early in your research career, it is important to be productive and complete some less extensive projects starting from case reports, review articles, and retrospective studies. This allows you to practice the skills you acquired and get some confidence that you carried an idea from start to finish. It will build your research profile and make you a competitive candidate for grant funding in the future.
Step#5: Publish something even if it is a case report or a retrospective study.
How to build a brand?
Once you have found your mentoring team, acquired writing and statistical skills, and published at least one manuscript, it is time to develop a focus. You cannot build a brand without a focus. The first step is to find an area of research that you truly find fascinating and it typically includes ideas that you cannot stop thinking about and questions that give you an epiphany. Often, the most important research questions arise from your clinical work. Second, see if these ideas are vital from a clinical, research, and public health standpoint (significance). Third, see if you have the right environment (research team, institutional support, skills) needed to turn this idea into reality (feasibility). Often, we have to spend many years exploring different research interests and acquiring more skills (grantsmanship) before we arrive at an idea that we see ourselves developing into a brand (niche). For ECP, if you are busy clinicians with an interest in research, try your best to align your clinical interests with your research interests. Once you have established your niche, it is extremely important to stay focused so that all your time and energy is spent on developing your brand.
Step#6: Develop your niche, advance your skills, align clinical work with research, stay focused, avoid distractions.
What personality traits are needed?
A key trait is showing persistence despite multiple failures as it is not uncommon to have your first manuscript rejected by a journal or multiple journals. Having the persistence to learn from this experience, improve your manuscript and resubmit, is necessary. For mentees, it is important to develop a “can-do attitude”, be authentic, honest and follow through on commitments.
Step#7: Develop persistence, learn from failure, be a good mentee.
I hope you found these steps useful for building your brand in research. “The game has its ups and downs, but you can never lose focus of your individual goals and you can’t let yourself be beat because of lack of effort.” (Michael Jordan)
This session will be available on-demand until January 4th, 2020, and AHA Partners have FREE access to Scientific Sessions 2020 OnDemand Extended Access through 2021.
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