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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 39-41

Scientific writing for residents – A dialog across the divide

Department of Surgery, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry -605 006, India

Date of Submission18-Nov-2020
Date of Decision27-Nov-2020
Date of Acceptance27-Nov-2020
Date of Web Publication30-Dec-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sathasivam Sureshkumar
Department of Surgery, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry - 605 006
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijamr.ijamr_258_20

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How to cite this article:
Kate V, Pranavi A R, Sureshkumar S. Scientific writing for residents – A dialog across the divide. Int J Adv Med Health Res 2020;7:39-41

How to cite this URL:
Kate V, Pranavi A R, Sureshkumar S. Scientific writing for residents – A dialog across the divide. Int J Adv Med Health Res [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Mar 29];7:39-41. Available from: https://www.ijamhrjournal.org/text.asp?2020/7/2/39/305452

“You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Writing and publishing scientific research is a rewarding but difficult task that assumes herculean proportions if one adds the pressures of residency to the mix. Here, we present a dialogue across the faculty-resident divide, each sharing challenges unique to their respective station in the hospital ecosystem and ways in which those could be overcome.

  Resident Perspective Top

Why must the resident doctor write? In the face of the existing pressures of a residency course, should they undertake the onerous task of preparing a manuscript and submitting it, hoping against hope that it not be rejected? And if faced with rejection – which, in one's early days of publishing, is the norm rather than the exception – to try and try again? This process is not only time consuming but also mentally and emotionally draining.

Several institutes in developed countries have witnessed a surge in publications from medical students and resident doctors. Whether this is the result of an environment that actively promotes research right from the training period, or is merely reflective of the weightage that publications have on the admissions process. one cannot say. However, this is not the case in developing countries. For many doctors in India, their postgraduate theses are their first publications. Conducting independent research apart from their theses or publishing case reports/series is seen by many residents as taking on an unnecessary burden. Interestingly, it is the residents who are the closest to the patients and play a major role in carrying out direct patient-care activities, which gives them “ring-side” access to their research subjects. This provides them with unique insights and deeper perspectives and it would be a shame to not capitalize on this wealth of knowledge.

Unfortunately, surmounting the mental block is not the only hurdle that residents must overcome to begin scientific research. Residency, with its constant and urgent demands, is hardly a period when one can carve out an uninterrupted interval to think, research, and write. The establishment can help in this regard by providing residents with regular intervals of protected time for research and writing. The residents, on their part, can utilize the interstices of time that is available to them between works and note down ideas in their phones or tablets to flesh out later. Becoming savvier with the internet, like learning how to access papers online, performing searches on PubMed, etc., can unlock more doors for residents.[1] Furthermore, one does not need to rely on the traditional pen-and-paper method for data collection anymore. Several data collection tools are now customized to mobiles, and the data collected gets categorized automatically. The key here is to make technology your friend, not foe. Apart from time, we must also consider the fact that many hospitals and institutions where postgraduate training takes place do not have a strong culture of research and publishing. This may be the result of poor research infrastructure, inadequate funding, lack of mentorship or guidance, or even a lack of awareness about the avenues for scientific writing. These are systemic issues which would require concerted effort on part of the organizations to address, but one can always start small and build on that progress. Journal clubs already exist in most places but are usually conducted in a desultory manner. Those discussions could be made more vigorous, ensuring a critical analysis of the studies presented – questions like “How would I have done this study? How could I make it better?” can be raised. This will promote active participation on part of the residents and help them design their own studies.

Support from one's peers and colleagues, or the lack of it, is one of the factors hindering research in residency. Publishing articles during the residency period is wrongly perceived by some to have come at the cost of neglecting patient care activities or regular work. We must realize that when one person succeeds, we all succeed; publication of scientific research by one resident should serve as an encouragement for many more to take up the challenge, fostering an environment of healthy competition and co-operation. The role of mentorship in promoting research cannot be overstated. This holds true not only for the resident doctor but for any researcher who is starting out. The presence of an able mentor can make or break your career in research. Residents should make every effort to seek out mentors with good research aptitude in their respective institutions. If that is not possible, remember that we live in an increasingly connected world where research mentorship is not limited by geography– one can always reach out to potential mentors on online fora or on social media. Publishers too can play a role in promoting research by resident doctors by offering dedicated avenues to publish articles authored by residents. More grants and short-term studentships, with better publicity, could be offered at the postgraduate level. This will encourage more residents to take up research, and once they feel the thrill of publication, there would be no going back.

It can be argued that there is no one better suited to write a case report than the resident doctor who has been involved in the case from start to finish, but residents must not restrict themselves to case reports only. The ideal starting point of a good research project is often a good research question and the best sources of these questions lie in the lacunae in literature. Based on these queries, observational studies or retrospective data-based studies can be devised. While residents might find it difficult to conduct resource- and time-intensive projects like randomized controlled trials in addition to their ongoing coursework and theses, small-scale or pilot studies may not be beyond their scope.

Most importantly, residents should recognize that there is more to scientific writing than just publications. The ability to communicate scientific concepts lucidly is a crucial skill in the skill set of the modern doctor, irrespective of the kind of career they choose to have after postgraduation. This will come handy in several areas – conference presentations, academic teaching, patient communication, etc. In the process of learning how to write better, one automatically picks up the ability to read scientific articles better and critically – the importance of which cannot be overemphasized. An early start in publishing scientific research is also bound to boost one's career in academia significantly.[2]

  Faculty Perspective Top

The role of a mentor in developing an acumen for research and scientific writing amongst residents is two faceted. The first is introducing the resident to the world of research, while the second and far more difficult job is ensuring their perseverance and success in the said world. The level of research exposure residents come with may vary, ranging from no prior research experience to having published papers during their undergraduate training. The latter group of students are inclined to continue writing even in their residency. For these students, the primary role of the faculty is to help crystalize the course they must follow to attain success in the field of research. These students are usually self-driven and require little effort from the mentor in terms of motivation. Conversely, a resident with little or no experience in research may not get much attention from the faculty despite having the requisite potential and interest. It is essential for mentors to recognize this bias in themselves and avoid being partial while assessing the aptitude of a student with regard to research.

The induction of novice residents can be done with a case report. Faculty should realize that while a case report may not be a significant addition to their list of publications, for the student, it is the first but difficult step that helps them embark on a journey into the world of scientific writing. Case reports can then segue into case series and the next step can be to involve them in ongoing larger projects in small ways. This will give them a basic understanding of the framework of scientific research. In addition to journal clubs, exposing residents early on to other avenues of presenting research such as national and international conferences, exchange programs, etc., will help bolster their confidence, develop the art of public speaking, and help them network with research-oriented peers and mentors beyond their own institutes.

Once initiated, being interested in research by itself is not enough to sustain students in the field. Apart from providing them with protected time for research, an important issue to address is the friction which occurs when the mentor gets easily frustrated by mistakes and with the inability of the mentee to keep pace with expectations. This in turn can lead to depression and withdrawal of the student and in the worst-case scenario, can lead to a complete aversion towards research. Nurturing talent for research in a resident requires from the faculty both patience and the ability to inspire confidence. This atmosphere will encourage the student to share not only potential research questions but also personal and professional difficulties, which may be hindering them from engaging in scientific writing. The faculty must also sensitize the resident on the nuances of rejection as it is an inevitable component of publishing. Learning how to accept rejection, improving upon it, and using it to better existing research is an indispensable tool in the armamentarium of a proficient researcher and this must be imparted to the resident by the faculty.

Probably, the biggest factor that acts as a motivator for the student to do research is the recognition for their hard work. Giving due credit helps maintain a good research environment and gives the young researcher a sense of belonging and pride in carrying out their scientific commitment. This credit may be in the form of appropriate authorship, acknowledgment in conference presentations, providing research opportunities like availing travel grants and young researcher achievement awards. Getting selected for travel grants and presentations at plenary sessions of well-regarded conferences not only brings them international recognition but also helps in getting the research work published in esteemed journals with a high impact factor.[3],[4],[5] Increasing awareness of possible research funding and the intricacies involved in formulating a proposal for the same is also an important role of the mentor. Many funding agencies such as the Department of Biotechnology, Department of Science and Technology, Indian Council of Medical Research, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, etc., provide exclusive grants for students and trainees to encourage young researchers to excel in their research fields.[6] Furthermore, writing book chapters, reviews, and editorials are skills the residents extemporaneously learn once they master writing original research papers.[7]

A robust mentor-mentee relationship often extends beyond the duration of the residency and is perhaps considered truly fulfilled only when the mentee takes on independent research projects and sees them to fruition. With early induction, timely guidance, and constant encouragement from the faculty, research potential within residents can truly blossom into phenomenal scientific work.

  References Top

Singh V, Mayer P. Scientific writing: Strategies and tools for students and advisors. Biochem Mol Biol Educ 2014;42:405-13.  Back to cited text no. 1
Schein M, Farndon JR, Fingerhut A. Why should a surgeon publish? Br J Surg 2000;87:3-5.  Back to cited text no. 2
Mayank M, Mohsina S, Sureshkumar S, Kundra P, Kate V. Effect of perioperative high oxygen concentration on postoperative SSI in elective colorectal surgery – A randomized controlled trial. J Gastrointest Surg 2019;23:145-52.  Back to cited text no. 3
Aniruthan D, Pranavi AR, Sreenath GS, Kate V. Efficacy of single layered intestinal anastomosis over double layered intestinal anastomosis – An open labelled, randomized controlled trial. Int J Surg 2020;78:173-8.  Back to cited text no. 4
Saurabh K, Sureshkumar S, Mohsina S, Mahalakshmy T, Kundra P, Kate V. Adapted ERAS pathway versus standard care in patients undergoing emergency small bowel surgery: A randomized controlled trial. J Gastrointest Surg 2020;24:2077-87.  Back to cited text no. 5
Ayyar S, Jameel S. India Research Management Initiative (IRMI) – An initiative for building research capacity in India. Wellcome Open Res 2019;4:18.  Back to cited text no. 6
Kate V, Kumar SS, Subair M. Abstract and key words. In: Parija SC, Kate V. editors. Writing and Publishing a Scientific Research Paper. Singapore: Springer; 2017. p. 27-37.  Back to cited text no. 7


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