I have recently had my student-selected module project accepted for publication by a journal and I thought I’d take the opportunity to give a run down of my ideas on how best to go about undertaking research projects as part of the course and how to get the most out of them.
Pick something you like!
The chances are you will spend a lot of time reading around your subject choice in order to fully understand how your project can address a particular research question. You are likely to encounter numerous stumbling points, hurdles and roadblocks along the way and you may even find yourself getting a little demoralised at times! All of these are so much easier to deal with if you have picked a subject area that you are passionate about. Whether it pertains to a future specialty choice or is just a topic you have always wanted to know more about, when you come up against adversity your resolve will be stronger if you have a purpose to pursue.
Use your existing areas of knowledge where possible
Sometimes students will be attached to supervisors who already have a project intended for them and sometimes students have a free choice of topic. In any case projects in completely new subject areas can often be really daunting as the amount of knowledge needed to get up to speed can be vast. As above, if this is an area you are passionate about then it is likely you will approach the background reading around your topic with relish however you might be in for more work than you bargained for. Using an area with which you are already familiar, be it from a previous job, work experience or degree may give you the head start you need, especially if you are already aware of the state of the art in your chosen field.
Be prepared to change your project for publication
Obviously you will start by prioritising your work as one which will achieve a satisfactory grade for you at uni so tapering towards publication at this stage is not advised! The requirements for publication will differ between journals (word count, referencing etc.) and you will likely have segments in your module submission written for a general audience that would not be required by a specialist journal. Unfortunately this means that you will likely have to make changes between your module submission and the article you submit for publication. You can make things easier on yourself by highlighting parts of your project as you go so that you can later omit them from the version for publication with ease. Remember though that the initial research question will remain the same so make sure you choose something from the beginning that has a suitable niche for publication.
Start the manuscript submission process early
Some journals can take months to respond to submissions and even then they may have minor or major revisions that they suggest in order for your work to be approved. Also, you will normally not be able to submit your manuscript to multiple journals simultaneously so will have to wait for a rejection from the first one before proceeding to submit to another. This can be time consuming, so getting started as early as possible will give you the greatest chance of getting published in a timely manner.
These are just a few tips but the medical school provide a lot of support and expertise around these projects to give you great guidance both for the module and publication. This is one of the best times to get something published and this will normally count towards earning you some points down the road when applying to specialties, so work hard now and you will reap the benefits!