- Read profusely
Keep yourself up-to-date with whatever is happening in your field – and around it. Create and save several PubMed (or even Google Scholar) searches that will send you the latest publications related to your area to your inbox weekly. Curate science podcasts and choose one or two that you listen to regularly.
- Everything must flow seamlessly in your project
Start with a good research question → overall goal/aim → hypothesis/es → specific objective(s) → study/phase design → methods → analyses. Whenever confused about the way forward, return to the start.
- Ask great Qs
“What is the next step in this project?” is a good question. “What is the next area worth exploring?” is a great question. Scan today’s literature to identify tomorrow’s studies.
- Collaborate intensively
Alway ask yourself, “which other person in my lab / university/ world knows most about this project?” – and invite them to join. It’s a win-win proposition, they’ll either help you out, or be flattered and respond positively the next time.
- Be adventurous, persistent, and ready to fail
“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” (Winston Churchill). “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” (Nelson Mandela)
Each unsuccessful experiment or grant application teaches us way more than the successful ones – take the time to debrief, learn, adjust, and plan to do next time differently.
- If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right
Never shy away from a solid, thoughtful design and methods even for a small study, grant or manuscript. Get it to all flow seamlessly (see #2), then get as many friends (and ideally enemies) to read it and critique it (see #4). Avoid the inevitable regrets of a sloppy job. “Fear regret more than failure.” (Taryn Rose)
- Learn to write like a scientist
Scientific writing in medicine is specific, demanding, and tough. It requires:
- Clarity and razor-sharpness: re-read each statement, and let your significant other, friend or parent read it – if they are even slightly confused, that statement must be re-written.
- Brevity: each word must have a purpose, otherwise it gets slashed. And if any idea or statement can be expressed in less words, the shorter version is always better.
- Structure: demarcate each section with easily-identifiable, numbered headings and subheadings. Use precious white space for resting reviewers’ eyes between major sections. Limit headings to 2-3 levels max.
Aim to capture and hold reviewers’ attention through whatever the expected length of your proposal is, one section at a time:
- Pick up their attention with a direct, clear first summarizing paragraph/section
- Convince them why the study/project is worth doing through a short and to-the-point identification of the gap(s) – each background paragraph ends up in a knowledge gap.
- Clearly identify why and how your project will be able to fill each gap listed using very carefully articulated objectives. Make sure you write specific, measurable objectives – the types which start with verbs like “identify” or “estimate” – rather than tasks (which use words like “develop”, “create”, “prepare”, or “inform”). And avoid at all costs fuzzy verbs like “explore”, “investigate”, “inquire”, or the worst of all, “understand”. Check again Prof. Mayo’s classic paper (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11136-022-03117-y)
- Build up a robust and detailed Methods section, including study design, participants & recruitment, instruments, data collection, variables, outcomes, statistical analyses, and sample size/power calculations. The main job of this section is to convince your reviewers that you know how to do it right, and will do it.
- Preempt your reviewers’ concerns with a solid “Challenges and mitigations” (“Limitations” in a manuscript) section, to include and address any potential criticism. Classic challenges are recruitment, timelines, and administrative delays (like data sharing agreements and contracts).
- Convince your reviewers that yours is a hand-picked “dream team”, that includes every needed expertise, and ideally leaders in the domain of the study.
- End up on a high note with a re-statement of the significance and potential impact of the study, and prepare the reviewer for the upcoming daughter projects.
- Bedtime reading/listening list
- Kuhn, T. S. (1996). The structure of scientific revolutions (3rd ed.). University of Chicago Press.
- Topol, E. (2019). Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again. United States: Basic Books.
- Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. United States: Doubleday Canada.
- Maté, G. (2022). The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture. Canada: Knopf Canada.
- Kalanithi, P. (2016). When Breath Becomes Air. United Kingdom: Random House Publishing Group.
- Ofri, D. (2017). What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear. United States: Beacon Press.
- Lex Fridman Podcast. Conversations about the nature of intelligence, consciousness, love, and power. https://g.co/kgs/V8hQHD