5 Tips on Getting Research Done as a Resident

Research can be a polarizing topic for most residents. Research certainly has its utility: the ACGME requires residents to participate in scholarly activities and it can set you apart when applying for fellowship and jobs in academia.  Some may inherently love its challenges, while others may be forever frustrated.  As a resident, you often have to get results when experience, knowledge, and free-time are difficult to come by. Here are five tips to help you succeed in research as a resident.
  1. Start early, plan ahead and expect delay:
Research takes time. Set up meetings with potential mentors and discuss any ideas they have for projects that you may be able to execute. Just talking about a project doesn’t mean you have to do it!  Consider multiple projects, and choose those that you have genuine interest in. Once you have identified research questions, developing the appropriate protocol is important as this will also be needed for IRB application. Well thought-out methods, specifically the planned analysis (with a priori power analysis), are critical to avoiding missteps later on. If applicable, get statistical support before data collection, as this can help decrease unanticipated reviewer comments. Consider starting multiple projects that vary in scope and timeline. Lastly, think about which journal and meetings you are targeting and get familiar with their instructions.
  1. Choose a mentor who is compatible and has expertise:
Finding the right mentor is crucial for success. Ideally, you want to partner with a well-established and responsive mentor. Ask current residents which mentors have good track records in mentorship. It is important to be humble and honest about time commitments and also to be clear about what your goals are. You might start out helping complete an existing project and by doing so you will be able to build trust, rapport and enthusiasm. If you do not have a mentor at your home institution, consider reaching out through the POSNA network or online forums. Your research mentor does not necessarily have to be from the same institution.
  1. Look into funding early:
Ask yourself if funding is needed to support your project and create a budget. This should include data requests for retrospective reviews, non-standard of care items used in clinical studies, miscellaneous cost, e.g. specimens, disposable and lab costs for basic science projects. Also, keep in mind that research personnel such as a coordinator or statistician may also require funding. Find out what active sources of funding your department has. In case of collaboration with other departments or multi-center trials find out if there is shared cost. It also helps to talk to more senior residents and your mentor. Several organizations have dedicated resident grants, e.g. OREF, OTA, POSNA. Keep in mind that good grant writing takes time and effort!
  1. Collaboration is Key!
Collaboration early on is more likely to set you up for success. Be personable, engaging and interactive. A diverse set of collaborators can bring more experience to the table and increases your chance of problem solving. Develop relationships not only with mentors, but with individuals who may want YOU to be a mentor (i.e. medical students). The most successful resident researchers have a trusted core of collaborators they can ask for help and ideas.
  1. Educational Opportunities
Consider attending a grant writing workshop or applying for educational opportunities. ORS, for example, offers the Clinician Scholar Career Development Program (CSCDP), an annual two-day training workshop targeting PGY2-5, fellows and junior faculty who have the potential and desire to become orthopaedic clinician scholars. In addition, OREF, ORS and AAOS offer grant writing workshops.
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