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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.

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.

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, e.g. a very successful 2 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. For a list of potential research funders go to external agencies including funding bodies.

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.