“Basic Research is What I am doing when I don’t know what
I am doing”

Werner von Braun (Aerospace Engineer in NASA)

We, as fresh medical students, are both fascinated, and terrified by research. We believe it to be this uphill task which is demanding and exhausting and requires us to have advanced level of knowledge in statistics, research methodologies, PRISMA checklists, data science and what not! But consider this article a letter from your future self to tell you that as a medical student you CAN do research, safely and effectively.

I am Aniruddh Agrawal, currently an Intern (MBBS) at Topiwala National Medical College, Mumbai and I have also been a part of the research fraternity since first grade! How? Well when I was 6 years old, I had a question about how hard I had to pull my 4-year-old sister’s hair so that she would start tearing up. Now, if I had recruited 100 of my friends to do the same thing, maybe I could have turned that question into a formalized research study and published it and we all could finally have the answer to the most indifferent question, “How much effort would it take for an elder brother to annoy his younger sister?”

After long years of such questions and ‘research studies’ that were centered around annoying my sister, I moved to real questions that would be considered beneficial to the society at large and was first published in a peer-reviewed journal in 2016, at the age of 19. Since then I have published 18 articles in peer reviewed journals ranging from the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery to the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and I have created my own platform called PubGeek.Co that facilitates undergraduate.

students in familiarizing themselves with research before they move on to independently performing it. However, before we move on to how I came about doing all this, it would be prudent to talk about why I started research so early and how it has helped me in my journey in MBBS.

During my journey with PubGeek, I have realized that the main reason why students don’t want to become a part of research is because either they consider it a daunting task or they simply find it too time consuming.

A majority of the people that enter these workshops are geared towards preparing for USMLE and therefore they consider research an important aspect of ‘CV-building’. However, it is my earnest request to all students, even those who are planning to stay back in India to not consider research as just a CV-booster, it should be considered a part and parcel of a doctor’s everyday life. Research helps you frame whatever task you are performing into questions, such as, why am I doing this task, what are the biggest hurdles while performing this task, can I implement some strategy to make this task faster not only for myself but also for 1000’s of doctors that may be doing this everyday? These questions can in themselves be stand-alone research papers (provided they are novel and not already answered). This would later help not only you, but also a large part of the medical fraternity which would be grateful to you for streamlining their everyday tasks! We all have heard of the McBurney’s point, but why are we calling it by this name? This is because in 1889, Dr. Charles McBurney submitted an article to the New York Medical Journal on his experience in cases with appendicitis and he noticed that the “seat of greatest pain determined by the pressure of one finger, has been very exactly between an inch and a half and two inches from the anterior spinous process of the ilium on a straight line drawn from that process to the umbilicus.”

A finding that he reported almost 130 years ago is still used by modern surgeons to diagnose appendicitis! Do you think Dr. McBurney was doing this to boost his CV? No! He was facing a genuine problem of how one can diagnose appendicitis with just pain in the abdomen, which can be the differential of more than a 1000 pathologies in a time when no USGs, X-rays, CT Scans and MRIs were available! There must have been hundreds of doctors facing this problem throughout the globe but Dr. McBurney decided he wanted to determine how to make this problem easier all doctors who would read his work. And that’s the basic goal of research! Make life easier, faster and better not only for patients but also doctors. And while it helps people, it also helps in achieving a self-serving goal of getting your name familiar in the medical fraternity and your value to it recognised. Because after all, if research was just for CV boosting, why would senior doctors take part in it? Research by Solomon et al. even suggests that starting research in early years of medical school makes better physicians later! Therefore, it would be my earnest request for all students to have some experience in research in their undergraduate years, you may not be able to independently organise a study but at least you volunteer for programs or even attend undergraduate research conferences that would help you become familiar with the process in your formative years which would change your thought process to problem-solving mode.

Hopefully I have been quite convincing to you and answered your question of, “Why should one do research?” so let me move on to answering the next question in your mind, “But Aniruddh, what can I, as a mere medical student, do to conduct research?” There are multiple opportunities that you can take advantage of! Most students think that the ICMR STS programme is the be-all and end-all of their research career in MBBS. MBBS is a great time to explore research studies that your professors or residents may be working on and volunteer for them! Although the STS provides you with an opportunity to do independent research, that is not always the best option for students who might lack appropriate guides in their college. Volunteering for research is a great way to become acquainted with the different problems that you as a student might face during your independent research journey! You will learn about the various ethical committee obligations, interact with statisticians and understand their needs, learn about roadblocks that you face with patients or realise that the medical records might not have all the information you need which may need you to pivot from your original research methodology!

Due to the troubles that I faced during my own research journey, I realised that volunteering is the great way for a student to get started in research and therefore, I decided to start the PubGeek platform. PubGeek.Co is an online platform that connects students to doctors who are working on research projects but do not often have time to complete the groundwork for which they need volunteers. Students can therefore, sign up for these projects which are posted on our website from time to time. We also conduct research workshops which allow students to learn more about the basics of research in a practical manner. We are more geared towards focusing on practical approaches rather than the theoretical aspects of the research. This will allow student to apply their knowledge in either their volunteering experiences or their independent research protocols. So far PubGeek is a strong community of 350+ students from all over the world including the United States and United Kingdom! In the past 18 months that the platform has been live, we have already conducted 3 research projects so far and one has even been published in the Indian Journal of Orthopaedics, a PubMed indexed journal. We have conducted research methodology workshops for over 2,000 medical students.

It is my earnest request to all medical students reading this column today to not just depend on ICMR STS applications to determine whether or not you will be involved in research in your undergraduate years! Take it upon yourself to build a framework for the skills necessary to achieve great academic and research success in the future and develop an outlook in your practice which questions and tries to modify and improve the problems that you and thousands of other doctors may be facing everyday. Volunteering for research projects is a great way for you to start off in your research journey.

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– Aniruddh Agrawal


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