Getting Started In Research

Getting a research project off the ground can seem a daunting task, especially if you’ve never been involved in the process before. Here, we set out the essentials to developing your own research project.

Opportunities for research training

The RCOphth academic sub-committee partner with the education committee to highlight existing resources for development as a researcher, and to provide Ophthalmology-specific courses for all career stages. The courses support a range of research involvement from critical analysis of a paper to leading research projects.

Book a course

Identify your research question

There are so many areas where we need to improve clinical care that identifying a worthwhile research topic shouldn’t be a problem. Ideally this would be married to your clinical interests. But framing your research question is the right way is crucial to a project’s success. The key is to see what everyone else has seen but think what nobody else has thought.

Using the P(opulation) I(ntervention) C(omparator) O(utcomes) framework will help you articulate a good research question and help you identify the best research design.

Patient & Public Involvement

The College has a keen interest in promoting and supporting research that will improve patient care and provide benefits in terms of maintaining visual health and increasing awareness of the vital role that research has played in the enormous improvements in eye health over the past decades.

Key breakthroughs through research in Ophthalmology and Vision sciences

As clinicians, we know that sight is precious and good eyesight is important to all aspects of life including people’s quality of life. Children growing up with impaired eyesight face challenges in terms of development, education and social opportunities. Loss of eyesight is feared by the public and is rated as one of the most devastating experiences by sufferers of eye conditions.

The last decade has seen enormous improvements in the management of common eye disorders that can cause blindness such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and retinal detachments. These improvements in patient management have been made possible because of decades of research effort into new treatments and better surgical techniques.

Getting help

Trainees and inexperienced researchers will require input from someone who is an experienced researcher and who has a network of contacts that could be of use to you and your project. A local ophthalmologist in your deanery/university, active in clinical or basic science research, is an excellent first point of contact. Set up a meeting to discuss your idea. If trainees cannot identify anyone locally, the lead for your local trainee research network may be able to help

For NIHR and MRC funded post-doctoral researchers the Academy of Medical Sciences runs an excellent mentorship scheme for career development

Work to your strengths

We are all different and we will all enjoy different types of research (e.g. clinical, epidemiology, big data/informatics, laboratory-based research). It is crucial we do something we truly enjoy. Projects often run into difficulties (see resilience below) and risk grinding to a halt unless you are entirely committed to it. Identify the right type of project for you.

Learn how to perform high quality research

Your local deaneries and universities may well run introductory seminars on the design and implementation of high quality research. The College runs events and courses aimed at helping getting started in research, eg a very successful two day seminar to help those entering research.


Research costs money. Some local clinical projects might be possible without funding, but ambitious projects will often need financial support.

Charities that fund eye research can be found via the Association of Medical Research Charities website. The value of the research they fund varies widely and the time to make a decision can vary considerably, possibly up to a year. Funding schemes range from small starter grants, project grants (typically up to 3 years), PhD studentships and five year programme grants.

Government funded research programmes are shown below. Again, there are a range of grants available. In addition these organisations pay overhead payments to cover the cost of performing research to your host organisation (University or Trust).

UK Research & Innovation has a vision for an outstanding research and innovation system in the UK that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and to benefit, enriching lives locally, nationally and internationally.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists also provides a range of grant schemes for their members, as does the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Be resilient

The most important personality trait. Performing research is difficult when coupled with a clinical career. You will initially do a lot of it in your spare time and you will be beset by perceived failures along the way (grant applications, paper submissions).

This is something we as medics are not particularly used to. Stay strong. The rewards for delivering a project that you have complete ownership of are huge.

College Research Activities

An important part of the College’s activity is to promote research and provide research training. This is how we promote research training and opportunities to learn about research:

A pile of BOSU reporting cards

The British Ophthalmological Surveillance Unit

The British Ophthalmological Surveillance Unit (BOSU) is a system for national collection of data on rare and important disorders to support research, prevention and epidemiological assessment of ophthalmic disorders across the UK.

Find out more about BOSU
Three eyes close up- credit: Evi Scholz / EyeEm; Science Photo Library - PASIEKA; Emiliano Orsi / EyeEm.

Eye Journal

Eye is the scientific journal of RCOphth, brining you high quality articles on the latest global clinical and laboratory based research.

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