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Finding a Scalable Research Assignment

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

When doing research as a student, we should try to maximise what we can get out of a project for our portfolios, given that we have so many other things going on at the same time like our degrees. One way to do this is to make the most of a research project that is already part of your course, but on top of that, making sure the project is scalable is another key element to being able to do so. By “scalable”, I am referring to a project that can be taken further upon completion to be presented at conferences, published, or submitted for an essay prize.

Having had one research project that was a medical school assignment selected for a national essay prize and another one being presented at a national conference + adapted for publication, these are the things that I look out for when selecting a project. This advice also applies to projects you do in your own time, outside of university work.

Start by looking at the project title and description. The obvious thing is whether it interests you, but on top of that, the title will give you an idea of how novel the project is and the study type, therefore telling you how likely the work will get accepted for publication/presentation. The way the project description is written will also tell you how seriously the supervisor will take the work. A good project description will be detailed and backed up by existing work. Be wary with projects that sound like routine audits because they might have very limited scalability, especially if your sample is small.

When I did my assignments, some projects gave students the flexibility to decide the title of their project within a subject area - is this for you? I decided that I wanted a specific project because I didn’t know the niche areas of the field very well. Doing so made it easier for me to focus on the actual research.

Then have a think about the scalability of the project itself. Are there any clear conferences or prizes you know that this work would be suitable for? For example, I knew that the assignment that got me the essay prize award wouldn’t have led to a publication but there was a specific essay prize that I wanted to submit it to, so I selected that project.

After that, look into the work involved for the project. For this, you might not have the information on hand so it would be worth getting in touch with the supervisor offering the project to find out more. Making yourself known to them might be helpful if they have a say in which student gets their project. If you don’t end up working with them for this specific project, you might want to work with them for a future project. Find out how feasible it is for you to complete the project within any specified deadlines - the key thing with clinical projects would be how large your dataset is and how long it takes to collect the data. For lab-based projects, it would depend on whether there is existing support in place e.g. day to day supervisors and protocols that have already been optimised. All these factors play into how likely you can complete the work in time.

Finally, consider who the project supervisor is. The obvious thing is looking at their research output, but consider how often they work with students too. People in the years above are a great source of information for this, especially if they have done projects with those supervisors before.

Once you’ve decided that you’re interested in a project, add it to a running list of potential projects. An Excel sheet is a simple way to keep track and by having multiple projects in mind, you can be strategic to maximise your chances of getting your scalable project of choice. Now off you go to decide on your project, good luck!

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