Grabbing Ahold of the Research Ropes

Kyle Bradford Jones, MD

Kyle Bradford Jones, MD

One of the most common challenges faced by new faculty is how to get a good handle on research. The transition to academic medicine is a difficult one, whether coming directly out of residency or from a different practice setting. It can often present confusion on expectations and how to achieve your desired goals.

If you are anything like me, you were likely a little naïve about what may be required to pull off successful research projects. Dealing with the internal review board (IRB), leading a research team, understanding the ins and outs of applying for grant funding, properly fulfilling IRB and grant requirements after approval, knowing the best place to submit your manuscript, dealing with publishers and editors, and other steps in the process can cause anxiety and confusion.

To avoid anxiety and confusion as you start your research and career, seek out a mentor, collaborate wisely, pursue your interests, learn all that you can about the funding game, and be persistent.

Seek mentorship

The importance of a good mentor cannot be overstated. Finding someone, preferably at your own institution, can help with many of the little things that you may not anticipate. A mentor at your home institution can steer you to someone who knows how the local IRB works or to someone who can ensure your grant is submitted properly. Even understanding the differences between the types of grants, such as an R18 or R21, and which one may best fit your level of expertise and type of research can be invaluable and save you a lot of time. It is ideal if your mentor is in a similar research area. However, due to the competitive nature of research, some colleagues in your home institution may prefer not to be a mentor.


This can overlap with mentorship. Find others whose interests and skills complement yours, and see how you can work together. Collaboration not only helps you be successful early in your career but is critical at every stage of your research career. You can learn so much from others.

Pursue your interests

Pursuing your interests means not saying yes to every opportunity. Early in your career it is easy to say yes to every opportunity. Sometimes this is necessary to get your foot in the door or even to narrow a wide array of research interests. But creating new knowledge is not easy; it takes a lot of hard work. Make sure what you are working on is interesting and worthwhile to you. This can make a world of difference and reduce burnout.

Learn all that you can about the funding game

Unless you are exceptionally lucky, you likely need to find your own financial support for investigations. The questions then become where is the best place to get funding, and how can I be competitive in obtaining this funding? Research funding is decreasing, and it may require some creativity to get what you need. Knowing both how federal programs and local or national foundations provide funding can guide your process. Many institutions, specifically large universities, may have specific requirements on grant money spending, such as how it can be used toward indirect expenses and other items.

Be persistent

Be persistent in finding the resources you need to be successful. Research is competitive and can be difficult, especially as you are getting started.

Be persistent in gaining funds. You will be rejected for many grant applications, but stick with it. Once you receive initial funding, it is easier to get funding in the future.

Be persistent in publication. No matter how good your research is or how well-organized and written the manuscript is, you will have rejections. Make sure to take any comments or edits under consideration, and let them be learning experiences for the future.

Being involved in research is often the most difficult and foreign aspect of academic family medicine but can also be extremely rewarding. Hopefully these lessons will help to spur your efforts. Good luck!

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