As I approach the final days of my two-year clinical research commitment, I have been wondering what I would recommend to those approaching their own research time. How can they optimize their experience and prepare for a future in academic surgery? Here are my top 5 recommendations:
- Mentorship, mentorship, mentorship
Perhaps the biggest decision is your choice of mentor(s) for your research time. I have been fortunate to work with someone who is committed to my career development as demonstrated by the best measure possible: devoting her own time to my projects. Speak with your colleagues to gauge which potential mentors will commit to meeting with you on a weekly basis to provide guidance.
- Submit abstracts and attend conferences
One strategy my mentor and I used was to constantly talk about what abstract submission deadlines were approaching. Regardless of the disease area, two conferences I’ve greatly enjoyed attending have been American College of Surgeons and Academic Surgical Congress. They are extremely open to having trainees and medical students give oral presentations. This will give you a great opportunity to network with like-minded researchers. Beyond these two, you and your mentor should identify other important conferences relevant to the particular area you are researching.
- Pick a subject matter that interests you and will help patients
Hopefully there will be synergy in the subject matter that interests you, the work your mentor is already doing, and a relevant topic that has the potential to actually improve patients’ lives. You will be living with this project for a minimum of six months to one year (best case scenario for clinical, large database study) from start to finish. If it is not something that interests you or your mentor, or will not ultimately make a difference for patients, it will make for a less enjoyable journey. Beyond simple decision points of “basic science versus clinical outcomes” or “endocrine versus colorectal surgery” consider if you are interested in studying medications, devices, health care utilization, surgical education, or quality improvement to name a few topics.
- Consider advanced degrees
While not essential, pursuing an advanced degree is a good way to gain additional research skills that you may need. On June 1, I will graduate from a Master’s Program in Clinical Epidemiology and Health Services Research. As part of the program, I will have completed a thesis, which consists of two original manuscripts that will be submitted to peer-reviewed journals for publication. Think about an area of research or medicine that you find interesting and investigate if there is a Master’s program that can help you become an experienced researcher.
- Enjoy life
My final piece of advice is the easiest to digest: take time for yourself while you can. Explore the city/country/world, spend time with friends and family, exercise, read a good book or two. Do the things you wish you could do when you are busy clinically so that when you return to patient care you are rejuvenated. At least, that is the hope. I’ll let you know how it turns out for me.
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