‘Be thankful for the hard times, for they have made you’.

This statement sums up my feelings as I reflect on my recently completed Doctoral research journey.

Commencing a research is an exciting, inspiring yet challenging process; it is a progression of our learning; it also involves a significant amount of time, effort and commitment. In truth, I really enjoyed it and nothing beats the satisfaction I felt the day I handed in my final paper, the end of my personal 6 year marathon journey. 

So, what are the ingredients that will inspire you to undertake your own research study? These are my tips, for you to go and create your own recipe!

SOMM Blog | Recipe for Research - The Six Basic Ingredients

INGREDIENT 1: IDENTIFY YOUR QUESTIONS

Interest in a particular topic is vital as you begin the research process. Questions may emerge from, or be submerged within a problem or another question, a clinical experience or observation, a personal or organisational interest. Research is about asking and beginning to answer questions, seeking knowledge and testing assumptions and beliefs. It can be a long journey. So it is vital to choose something you are really interested in (and hopefully, others too!). Also, you should ensure the subject is clinically relevant, as your interest and vision of your study making an impact in your practice area, is essential in maintaining focus and keeping motivated.

INGREDIENT 2: DEVELOP A HYPOTHESIS OR RESEARCH QUESTIONS

Turning your ideas and interests into a hypothesis or research questions is the first real step of your research journey. When developing your research question, use the FINER criteria for a good research question: is it Feasible, Interesting, Novel, Ethical and Relevant (Hulley et al., 2013)? Once you have developed a title, you will need to ‘unpack’ it, and think about the areas and questions that need investigating in order to address or answer your title. I found the PICOT approach: Population, Intervention, Comparison Group, Outcome of Interest and Time (Haynes, 2006) very helpful, as it gives a useful framework to important considerations such as bias, internal and external validity, and generalisability. Performing or learning about systematic review(s) is also helpful to increase your knowledge, and to get familiar with your topics.

INGREDIENT 3: WHAT RESOURCES AND SUPPORT CAN I USE?

You may find it overwhelming with the hundreds/thousands of literature sources and database searches – I certainly did! My advice – keep it tight and focused on the area you are exploring. Many barriers to research may be resolved by the effective use of resources and support surrounding your supervisory team (Liberian, statistician, IT, peers, experts in your field and the Research Committee of SOMM). During my Doctoral journey, I found there were plenty of people willing to help, share their expertise, guide me through the process and provide much needed encouragement when I was disheartened. Your supervisor(s) is one key person who can guide you through each stage of your research. Drawing up an agenda for each meeting may help you both to address the present and long-term issues.

INGREDIENT 4: WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH THE DATA AND RESULTS?

I remember I attended a workshop called ‘What do I do with all this data?’ You may be tempted to use everything and find it hard to let go because collecting and categorising data is hard work! But it’s time to learn to let go. Be selective and consider what is really relevant, and then link these findings to your questions. Do your findings lead you to accept or reject your hypothesis? If so, why, and if not, why not? What similarities and differences exist, compared to the current literature, and why? How is your research: is it valid, reliable, generalisable and significant? Making sense of your data, working at a critical level, summarising the key issues, drawing conclusions, evaluating, reflecting and being creative and impactful – these are all necessary steps in your creative process!

INGREDIENT 5: HOW DO I MANAGE MY TIME AND TASKS?

My own experience as a part-time Doctoral student, combining an almost full-time clinical and lecturing job with study for six years, as well as managing two small children during my research degree, certainly had its ups and downs. Realistically planning stages of your research, drawing up short-term and long-term goals, prioritising your tasks, and using ‘to-do’ lists with a variety of small and big yet essential tasks, will help you organise and feel more in control of your project and time. Everyone’s circumstances are different with their work and family commitments. Discuss your concerns with your friends, family, partner, and colleagues. I think it is almost impossible to enjoy your research if you don’t have any form of help, support, and normality. I never gave up my social and family interests –  but I did learn to time and schedule them in relation to my research.

INGREDIENT 6: ENJOY IT!

Although there are different challenges at different stages of your research journey, I found it incredibly rewarding and invaluable. I feel it has advanced me as a more rounded clinician, teacher and budding researcher. It has allowed me to discover my strength and weakness, and in doing so aid my personal and professional growth. Having the right attitude, positive thinking and belief in oneself are essential ingredients for success.

Over the last three decades, the SOMM acknowledges the importance of research, and it has a long-term strategic goal of supporting research within the field of Musculoskeletal Medicine. Physiotherapists and doctors are looking more and more to available evidence to guide our practice. There are plenty of resources out there. For instance, check out our MSc  and Courses program.

I hope this recipe offers you some tips, ideas and enthusiasm about research. Enjoy it, and have fun! You will come out proud.

Dr Sharon Chan-Braddock, SOMM Teaching Fellow and member of Research Committee

References

Haynes, B. (2006) ‘Forming research questions.’ Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. 59(9) pp. 881- 886.

Hulley, S., Cummings, S., Browner, W.. Grady, D. and Newman, T. (2013) Designing clinical research 4th edition. Philadelphia (PA): Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

SOMM Tutors | Dr Sharon Chan

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