Advice to Medical Students Stepping Into Cardiology Research
Being part of a research project is never an easy task, even for experienced academic physicians. Medical students often become passionate about conducting research in the fields of medicine that interest them; in my case, it is cardiology. However, the skills needed to perform meaningful research and the knowledge required to write a novel manuscript creates a daunting abyss for medical students thinking about engaging in medical research. Fortunately, since my first year as a medical student, I have had the opportunity to write different types of manuscripts. The path to how I got to this point was not easy and I am still taking my first steps in this field, but I hope that I will be able to give you some advice that helped me to start publishing papers and enter an MD/PhD program in cardiology. Below I have listed useful tips that will help you make your first steps into cardiology research!
1. Choose an area and topic that you are passionate about.
Being part of research that you are not interested in will turn this task into a challengingly unpleasant job. Consequently, it will probably hinder your progress and your team, as well.
2. Have a mentor you can count on.
As a medical student, even if you have already engaged in previous projects, our knowledge in the field is limited. Having a mentor who advises you on the skills you should improve, reviews and collaborates on manuscripts, and puts you in touch with research is essential to ensure that you develop the fundamental skills in becoming a researcher.
3. Always work in a team.
Teamwork is important in all areas, but in the academic field it is crucial. As a student, you should always try to work together with a colleague or research team member so that they can guide you in the challenges you are facing and assist in reviewing manuscript sections that you have written.
4. Learn to conduct a good literature search.
Conducting a well-structured search in the main databases is required to keep you up to date with previous studies and write relevant narrative and systematic reviews. You must learn how to create a search strategy in Pubmed, using MeSh and English terms, in addition to boolean operators, such as: AND, OR, NOT. There are several free online courses that you can enroll in to learn this fundamental skill, such as the Johns Hopkins's Systematic Review and Meta-analysis course.
5. Do not commit plagiarism.
Developing scientific writing is difficult, especially for researchers whose native language is not English. In that way, many will fall into the temptation to copy and paste the work of other researchers, which is considered plagiarism, even if referenced. You must learn to paraphrase and summarize the content of previous research, always referencing the article where you have obtained the information. If such alterations distort scientific meaning and the only option is to copy and paste, use quotation marks and reference the content.
6. Use reference managers.
Due to the extensive number of references that are cited in an article, writing each reference manually is time-consuming. However, there are several reference managers that will help to neatly manage all your bibliographies and references. Among the most important ones are EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero. Talk to your mentor and check if they have any preferences. If not, learn how to use the software that suits you the best.
7. Learn how the submission and review process works.
Once your manuscript is ready for submission, talk to your team about which journal they plan to submit it. Each journal has an author instructions section on their website that guides you about the format required for submission. Always follow strictly what is recommended by the journal. After submitting the article, the journal will receive it and make an initial analysis. If appropriate for the journal, the editors will choose reviewers to evaluate your manuscript. After a few weeks or months, reviewers will give you some insight into how your paper can be improved. It is extremely important to carefully read the reviewers' comments, make the necessary changes, and answer them in detail about what has been changed in the manuscript. If the article is rejected, view it as an opportunity for further improvement and be prepared to submit it to another journal that your team agrees with.
8. Do not forget, you are still a medical student
Always remember that you are still a student, and if you want to practice medicine, you must first match into residency. In that way, learn to organize your schedule and do not let clinical experience and medical school subjects fall behind. Finally, always remember to set aside some exercise and leisure time to maintain physical health and avoid burnout.
Figure 1: The stairs to success in medical research.
This article was authored by Eduardo Thadeu de Oliveira Correia, Medical and Doctor of Philosophy student at the Universidade Federal Fluminense in Brazil. (Twitter: @eduardotcorreia).