8 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My First Research Project

This is advice I give to people starting out in advanced training in palliative medicine (or geriatric medicine, my other training specialty) when asked about research projects*. It may also be relevant to other clinicians wanting to start out in research. The advice is based on my own experience and from talking to other trainees. One-hundred hours into your project, you do not want to discover that your study design is flawed or your results invalid. This advice may help to prevent that.

  1. Your research supervisor does not need to be the same person as your clinical supervisor. Unless your clinical supervisor is also a researcher, I would advise looking for someone else to supervise you, who has a research background. They do not need to come from your specialty or profession (although obviously some familiarity with your broad research topic is important). They may be based in a different city or country (although it may create complications with ethics approvals if your supervisor is from different institution).

Your supervisor can guide you through your study design. This improves the likelihood of producing valid results, which you can then publish and add to palliative care knowledge for the benefit of palliative care patients (because this is why we’re doing this research thing, right?)

If you’re not sure where to start looking for a supervisor, ask an academic in your field if they can recommend anyone. If you want to do palliative care research, the Palliverse researcher database is a good place to start.

  1. Librarians are very helpful. Most hospitals or health services have librarians who can assist you to use search engines, citation managers and other programs more efficiently. The library probably has resources that you don’t even know about.

  1. If you’re planning a clinical audit or a quality improvement project, the health service’s quality and safety department are a fantastic resource. They can walk you through any specific audit processes at your site and may help you link your topic to an existing standard or quality indicator.
  1. Befriend a statistician. Your health service may offer you support from a statistician or you can pay for one privately. It may be worth consulting a statistician while you are designing your study, before you start collecting data.
  1. Contact your ethics department early. Unless you are 100% sure that your project does not require ethics approval (eg it is a systematic review), it is worth running it by ethics staff to see whether your project is considered “research” and requires Human Research and Ethics Committee approval. This can be a slow process and ethics staff can assist you in addressing concerns that the ethics committee may have, to improve your chances of having your ethics proposal approved first time.
  1. If you’re not sure whether your research project will be acceptable to the markers for some reason (eg the topic is not obviously related to your specialty training area), check with your marking committee before you start – it would be disappointing to produce a beautiful study and publish it, only to have it marked “unsatisfactory” by the training committee because it doesn’t fulfil the criteria of your training program.
  1. Start early. I repeat, start early. There will be unforeseen delays. However, don’t rush to start collecting data until your study design is finalised. This will end up taking you more time in the end. But start early.
  1. Choose a research question that interests you. You will be spending a lot of time on your project. You don’t want to be bored for all of it.

I hope you find this helpful. Please use the comments box to share any advice you have for me and fellow Palliverse readers.

*Disclaimer: I am yet to submit any advanced training projects, therefore feel free to ignore this advice.

2 thoughts on “8 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My First Research Project

  1. Pingback: Reflections on research – supervision and deadlines | PALLIVERSE

  2. Pingback: Research Basics: EQUATOR, CONSORT, STROBE – what’s all that about? | PALLIVERSE

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