Initiating Research

How to Get Started

Are you passionate about a question, or do you just want to explore how to make research part of your career skillset? Great—you have come to the right place.

As with many things in medicine, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We suggest that you start off by collecting the most comprehensive information possible.

The Topic at Hand

You may have come across an interesting and relevant clinical question that you would like to explore in the laboratory or in the clinical research setting. The first step is to get a thorough overview of the literature. This should involve a structured and standardized literature search using MeSH terms on your topic of interest. If you have never done one, watch this introduction, then you can schedule a 1:1 session on how to do this effectively with UNMC library staff. If you have not recently or never attended an instruction on how to do a structured literature search, we can assure you that you will come away with the knowledge that will save you a lot of time. These skills will make your literature searches faster and more complete, thereby reducing the likelihood that you embark on a project that lacks novelty because you missed major published findings on the topic. Tip: Leverage your literature search by publishing it as a review; grow your publishing portfolio while you are preparing your research project.

The UNMC library liaison responsible for the Department of Anesthesiology is Emily Glenn, Associate Dean, Leon S. McGoogan Health Sciences Library. You can reach out to her directly and to library staff at askus@unmc.edu.

If you are not doing so already, start working with a citation management software as soon as possible. The standard tool that is used most commonly in the research world is Endnote. Endnote is available freely from UNMC to campus members. Make sure to establish an online repository for your library using a generic email address. Similarly, to the PubMed instructions, we encourage you to spend a few hours learning how to use this tool effectively. While you can just start without any knowledge, investing in mastering this tool will save you weeks on the backend. After downloading Endnote and watching their instructional videos, you can attend free live training.

Approach and Methods

Now that you have become an expert on the question at hand, it is time to think about approach and methods. Here, a conversation with potential mentors can be the next logical step. However, thorough preparation for your first conversation with a potential mentor may improve what both parties will get out of it. For example, if you are considering using a laboratory model, it may be helpful if you read about its application in other settings first. Similarly, prior to consulting with a biostatistician, it is important to understand what information they need in order to help you. We highly recommend the free online classes offered by the UNMC College of Public Health, Department of Biostatistics. You can take these on your own time. Another excellent series on what clinicians should know about biostatistics was published by the statistical editors of Anesthesia and Analgesia “Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Study Design: A Practical Online Primer for Clinicians” by Vetter TR, Schober P, Mascha EJ.

Preparation will make your conversation with the experts much more efficient. Think of a novice learner coming to your OR to learn how to intubate. The time will be much more efficiently spent if the word “Mallampati” rings a bell, even if the learner has never intubated a patient.

Finding the Right Mentor

If you have never embarked on a similarly scaled/complex project as the one that you have in mind, having a knowledgeable and experienced mentor with a successful track record of where you want to go is critical. In order for such a relationship to grow sustainably, it needs to be mutually beneficial. A mentor will look for a hard-working self-starter that will work diligently and write manuscripts that are carefully crafted; a mentee will look for a mentor with a track record of bringing junior investigators to success (=publishing as first author / securing a career development grant). Do your homework. Make sure you know a mentor’s track record. PubMed and NIH Reporter can be helpful in that regard. Assuming a mentor is committed and qualified, you are highly encouraged to seek mentors outside of the department, and even outside of the institution. Ask us for suggestions.

Before investing resources in a long-term relationship, a test of its reciprocity is recommended. Completing a lower-level scholarly product, such as a review on the topic that you would like to study, is a great way to #1) develop expertise for yourself, and #2) test if the mentee and mentor are committed to contributing to the relationship in a meaningful way.

Regulatory Requirements

Research in the US is highly regulated, and it all our responsibility to know and play by the rules. This encompasses multiple domains, e.g., the protection for human subjects (Institutional Review Board – IRB), the responsible oversight of animal care and use (The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee – IACUC), as well as managing and disclosing relevant conflicts of interest appropriately.

For clinical research, visit the IRB webpage to find important information. Complete the Human Subjects Research (HSR) course via the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) with instructions, if needed. Please complete groups One and Two of the training.

Presentations containing individual patient case descriptions, photographs, videos, or medical imaging must be accompanied by a Media Authorization Consent form signed by the patient or an authorized representative.

Your annual UNMC Conflict of Interest (COI) statement needs to be current.

COI, IRB, and CITI training need all to be in place prior to collecting any patient data.

To uphold UNMC’s determination to assure the finest care and most humane utilization of our laboratory animals, we need to adhere to applicable IACUC regulations. Consult with your PI and follow all applicable coursework and certification prior to engaging in any animal-related work.

Note that any funds coming to or leaving UNMC have to be pre-approved by UNMC administration. This is administered through the UNMC Sponsored Programs Administration. Reach out to us well ahead (i.e., 4-6 weeks prior) of any grant deadlines to start this process. 

Funding

Once most of the above steps have been taken, it is time to propose your project for funding. The UNMC Department of Anesthesiology is in a unique situation to be able to support a significant amount of departmental research. We have designed a competitive application process that is intended to raise the quality of our work to the highest level possible.

A critical component of raising the quality of research work is peer-review. You will encounter this concept when it comes time to submit your manuscript for publication. Peer review is a lot of work, not least for the individuals reviewing your submission. Peer review is a core expression of taking responsibility for the greater good. Your proposal will also undergo an abbreviated peer review process within our Department – and eventually, you will be asked to review your peers’ proposals too. The goal is not to slow you down, but to make your proposal as good as it can be and setting you up for success in the long run.

We want to encourage and support you in submitting your work for extramural funding. Funding is a critical component of research, not only to help pay the bills, but even more so to raise the quality of the work, and to enable changes to your proposal before it is too late. Admittedly, a rejected grant application or rejected paper often causes strong frustrations. That said, we encourage you to view it as an opportunity, and indeed a requirement to eventually increase the quality and impact of your work. Don’t be discouraged by failure. With a 10% funding rate, this is part of the process. Celebrate having tried. Tenacity will be required for success – but you will be successful eventually.

Some anesthesiology-specific funding resources are outlined below. There are many more, and we are glad to point you towards additional sources. We encourage you to think outside the box. There are sometimes lesser-known sources that may be easier to come by, e.g., from NE DHHS. Similarly, while everyone loves NIH funding, and we do too, there are multiple federal funding agencies that provide excellent funding mechanisms, e.g., DoD, AHRQ, CDC, or PCORI.

Anesthesiology-Specific Funding Resources

International Anesthesia Research Society: IARS Mentored Research Award

The Foundation for Anesthesia Education: Research and Grant Funding

Society of Cardiovascular Anesthesiologists: Funding Opportunities

Association of University Anesthesiologists & others: IMPACT Award

Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation: Grants & Awards

Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology: Young Investigator GrantSOAP/Kybele International Outreach Grant

American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine: Research Grants

Society for Pediatric Anesthesia: SPA Young Investigator Research Grants

Society for Technology in Anesthesia: Awards & Grants

Society for Ambulatory Anesthesiologists: SAMBA Research Awards

As noted above in the regulatory requirement section, any funds coming to or leaving UNMC have to be pre-approved by UNMC Sponsored Programs Administration. Reach out to us well ahead (i.e., 4-6 weeks prior) of any grant deadlines to start this process.

For more tips, e.g., on “How to Write a Research Paper,” please visit the Practical Resources page.