Delay in starting research project may delay graduation and post-graduate training

Interestingly, students who think nothing of tackling the Microbiology or Biochemistry requirements will get stumped when it comes to the research requirement. There is concern that too many students are putting off the launch and development of their project, to the point of impacting their graduation date. According to the 2018 Annual Student Survey results, only one-third of the student body has taken any step towards beginning their research project.

Faculty advise that you follow these two simple rules:

  1. Ask questions to get started.
  2. There are no stupid questions.

Ask for help

“The important part, if you have yet to do so, is simply to get started. Ask for help if you need ideas or, if you have progressed farther into the process, let someone know if you have run into a problem and need assistance,” says Randell Brown, PhD, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Director of Research. “There are plenty of people who want to help you and see you succeed.”

He also reminds students that they can always approach him, as well as Daria Camera, PhD, Assistant Director of Research.

As a Lecturer, Academic Advisor, and a Research Advisor, Dr. Camera says the most important thing she wants every student to understand is quite simple: There is no stupid question.

“I really want students to change how they think. I tell them that they aren’t going to ask me a question that I didn’t ask of someone one day. I tell them to just leave ‘stupid’ out of it. When you do, it’s just a question, something you want to understand,” Dr. Camera says.

What to do first

Students who enrolled at OUM during Term 1601 (January 2016) and after are required to take the Research Methodology module. The Student Handbook advises enrolling in that course early in their system-based modules (SBM) as the suggested timeframe to submit one’s final research prospectus is before completion of the fifth SBM.

A component of Research Methodology is spending up to 20 hours of consultation time with your Research Advisor, which can be spent

  • developing the idea and ultimately the project,
  • writing the prospectus,
  • designing the study/project,
  • guiding literature searches,
  • and reviewing manuscript drafts prior to its submission for publication.

For students who may not have worked in healthcare, or for providers who may not have practiced in an academic setting or teaching hospital, working with one’s Research Advisor to brainstorm ideas and develop the project is key. Another great source for both topic ideas and a basic understanding of the research process is Journal Club. The Student Handbook recommends several project categories: public health surveys, preventive medicine screenings, chart reviews, clinical studies. Taking Dr. Camera’s advice, don’t be silent – if you aren’t familiar with what may be involved, ask questions:

Question: How would I go about doing a public health survey?

Answer(s): You could collect data through a number of means – if you are able to garner a list of individuals who have expressed interest in research, they could be sent emails or called on the telephone. Surveys could also be conducted in a public location, such as a shopping mall or another busy retail setting. Another way to collect data? Reviewing patient charts to determine patient knowledge or behaviors.

One graduate’s project

Naomi Briggs, MD, Class of 2018


“To what extent do Zimbabwean migrants know and understand about Type 2 Diabetes?”

Her topic resulted from her background as a migrant, registered nurse, diabetes nurse educator, and podiatrist. Dr. Briggs produced a survey that was uploaded onto the Zimbabwean Community database for participants to complete. She started early during her SBMs and it took 18 months to complete. The timeframe was impacted by her need to use software at another university and by updates being made to the community database. She also started medical school before OUM required the Research Methodology class. Fortunately, she had done research during her Bachelor of Nursing Honors studies.

Avoid a graduation delay

“While the intent is certainly not to frighten anyone, it bears reminding that internship and residency programs require a copy of one’s diploma along with final transcripts before postgraduate training can actually begin,” says Dr. Brown. “Anything that delays that process could potentially even impact one’s place in the program.” He adds that since most OUM students are classified as International Medical Graduates (IMGs) some countries require ECFMG certification in order to begin postgraduate study, which also needs proof of graduation to complete.

Another factor not be underestimated is time. Students finish their clinical rotations and take their OSCE or USMLE Step 2 and think they just need a few days to complete their research. Wrong!

  • Development of the prospectus alone takes several weeks.
  • Approval of that may take a few days, longer if it needs revision.
  • IRB approval may take a couple of weeks, especially if there are questions.
  • If the student is using human subjects, especially in another facility, human subjects and ethics committee decisions may take a few additional weeks, depending upon that facility’s protocol.
  • Design and data collection will take several more weeks.
  • Data analysis, writing and revision process may take three to four weeks of dedicated work.
  • Once the manuscript is completed, it is submitted to a committee which reviews it along with other manuscripts.
  • There will likely be several rounds of revision and review before the manuscript is accepted for publication.
  • Start to finish, the process may take four to six months, or more, of diligent work.

“If the research project is the last thing between the student and graduation, it will take another three to four weeks for the bursar and registrar to verify that grades are in, confirm invoices as paid, produce transcripts, create the diploma, and assure ECFMG paperwork is complete,” says Chris Dudley, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Administration & Student Affairs.

In an effort to assure that graduations are not delayed in the future, at its March meeting, OUM’s Academic Board amended the original Research Requirement so students matriculating in Term 1904 and beyond will not progress to the curriculum’s clinical phase until his/her prospectus has been approved by the Director of Research, which also signifies completion of the Research Methodology course.

“This amendment will help relieve the bottleneck which has been resulting from students waiting until too late in their program to begin their research projects,” says Dudley. To also help current pre-clinical students stay on schedule, Research Advisors, Academic Advisors, and all faculty will strongly encourage securing prospectus approval before beginning clinical rotations, for those students who still have the opportunity, he adds.

Don’t be intimidated

Whatever the reason for delay, those who have not yet begun their projects need to simply get started. Be proactive. Put aside any former feelings of fear, confusion, or perhaps intimidation.

Retired from the US Army just prior to enrolling at OUM, fourth-year student Robert Duprey worked at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center near Washington DC, USA.  There, as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, he was trained to cross-reference research into his clinical care.  Robert thinks his classmates should give themselves more credit and not view the research project as intimidating.

“To most people, what we do every day is ‘intimidating.’ We’re in medical school!” says Robert, who regularly attended Research Club to assist in getting his project together.  “But, admittedly, I’m a little geeky in that I find research very exciting.”