The process of getting into research as a medical student or junior doctor can seem arduous and difficult to navigate – our monthly research column aims to tackle this by simplifying the processes associated with getting started in academia!

Why do I need to find a research supervisor?

Navigating the research and academic environment can be difficult, particularly when approaching this without extensive prior experience or advice. The first real step in finding research opportunities is finding a supervisor or mentor to guide you through the process. There are a number of reasons finding a good research supervisor really matters. Typically, a supervisor acts as a guide, mentor, source of information and facilitator to the student as they progress through a research project. Every supervision will be unique, but finding one who is able and willing to mentor you can make or break a successful research journey. Finding good mentorship can stimulate, as for me, an interest in research and academia, lead to publications and presentations and most importantly allow you to develop research-specific and transferable skills key to being a good doctor with the ability to practise evidence-based medicine.

How do I do this?

So how do you do this and what do you look for?

Firstly, finding out staff and faculty affiliated with your institution is a good starting point – looking in particular for clinical academics with involvement in the careers of early-career researchers such as involvement facilitating SFP or ACF programmes, or experience with student teaching. A good supervisor will also have a strong track record of publishing and presenting, and allowing their students and juniors to do so. When reaching out, you will be able to gauge whether they are interested in mentoring and have time to support and supervise you as well as pointing you to resources to develop yourself. Also consider the international and national collaborations that they are part of or have access to and how this might affect your opportunities and ability to collaborate more widely, broadening your network.

You should go through lists and browse staff profiles, focusing on areas which you have an interest in pursuing either clinically or academically as part of a future career. Whilst cold-emailing isn’t advisable, sometimes this is the only way to go about finding a supervisor. The other ways include attending conferences and networking with speakers and presenters, whilst gaining their contact details to liaise with them after, or through asking your medical school or deanery to point you to specific opportunities and faculty.

When emailing, be courteous and polite. Introduce yourself, your role, and your experience, attaching your CV. Describe your interest in the speciality, and particularly in their work, reading their papers and referencing these in the email. Ask for opportunities, and how you could possibly get involved and suggest a meeting to gain more insight and discuss further. My ultimate advice is never to say no to an opportunity – I emailed about what was advertised as an audit from which I did not expect much, which ended up being an opportunity to work on a large cohort study and led to my first first-author research paper. 

When you do find a supervisor, foster and grow your relationship with them, and never be the rate-limiting step in their work so they keep asking you to do more!