Many students aspire to pursue research in school with little to no experience. As a medical student, I see two big challenges with this. One, you must first learn about the process of publication, and two you need to become proficient in scientific writing. To assist new researchers in navigating the world of scientific authorship, I’ve provided some tips that will help create a flow between classwork and research.
- Help is closer than it seems.
Chances are, a student looking for a research project is going to ask a faculty member who is already an established researcher. It’s okay (and sometimes expected) not to have any experience. Instructors can help with the finer details, and an understanding of the process can be pieced together over time. Beyond that, university librarians are intimately familiar with the research process and are even called upon for help by many experienced researchers and faculty researchers.
- There is plenty of time (but not that much).
Medical school is four years long. Assuming a student wants to publish before the residency application is submitted, there are 3.5 years to excel in class and publish the best research possible. Many times, as class intensifies, the writing takes a backseat. This is a normal oscillation of prioritizing school over research. However, actually returning to writing can be challenging for a student without a plan. The plan must be personalized to fit the student’s schedule, but I suggest blocking out a couple hours per week to work on a piece. Two hours on Fridays before going home adds up to 8 hours per month, which is enough to write first drafts for many projects. Any minor edits thereafter should be done as soon as possible, and do not usually require significant changes.
- Find the most important writing tools.
Scientific writing for a new author is a lot like starting a new sport: Preparing with the right equipment (weights, running shoes, a proper diet, etc.) can make playing the games significantly easier. The tricky part is knowing what equipment to use. Many medical school libraries have access to multiple journals, so searching on PubMed is a popular source to access thousands of articles. To refine a preliminary search, learn how to use PubMed filters. The school librarians are most likely to help teach these skills. To keep track of papers and easily produce a bibliography by style (AMA, Nature, APA, etc.), use a reference management tool (Mendeley, Zotero, Endnote). To revise a manuscript before submitting to an editor, use a writing assistant (Grammarly, Sapling). Having proper grammar and spelling can expedite the editing process and get your work published much quicker.
- Know thy journal.
If a student has an idea for publication, chances are high that they have a journal in which they would like to publish. Taking time to explore the journal is an essential part of publishing, for more reasons than one. First, many journals have free online accounts which include perks like alerting a subscriber of new publications in a field of interest or access to a limited number of articles. Second, a journal’s website will often have instructions for authors seeking publication. With a quick scan, finding detailed outlines for each type of publication will help you in both the writing process and in appealing to the preferred writing style of the journal.
Being a student is not easy and adding research to the mix forces you to refine your learning and time management skills. As an early career researcher publishing work that is largely your own, it’s important to first learn the publication process, then become equipped with the right material, and finally submit to your journal of choice. I hope this advice provides a stepping stone in the process of becoming a published researcher.
About the AuthorMore Content by Keenan Boulnemour