More specifics – why is it especially challenging for *me* to come up with viable research ideas in my new situation?

I’m hoping the answer to this question isn’t “I’m an idiot with no original thoughts.” That would be…unfortunate 😛

Ok, so I think there a actually few external factors. First, I’ve decided, once again, to shift fields. I’m shifting with the broad orthopedics research umbrella and will be applying many of my grad program skills (writing, Matlab image processing, Gavin some clue how joints and cartilage work, etc.). However, my shift into the imaging sub-field (MRI, CT, etc.) means that there is an overwhelming amount of learning to do.

First, I need to quickly get up to speed on what’s been done and what’s possible – both in general and with our available resources (equipment, participant recruitment, technical expertise, funding, collaborators, personnel, etc.) I’m doing a lot of extra technical reading about the techniques that we use and taking in everything I can. There are SO MANY ACRONYMS :-0

I’m getting buried in reading (it’s all so interesting! But I need to figure out how to focus it…) and am only getting a small glimpse so far of who’s who in the literature. As I was completing my thesis I was finally feeling like I could list major players and their specific research focuses in my specific master’s work research area (fatigue wear in joint replacement components, behavior of the polyethylene that I was simulating).

Now I’m looking at an entirely different pool of researchers and haven’t yet seen enough papers by the same groups/authors to start making those connections. Although I didn’t usually limit my searches to specific authors or groups, seeing the continuity between advisors, their students, and various collaborators gave me a context to frame a lot of the literature that I saw, and a good idea of who would be coming out with the studies suggested in existing papers.

In addition to shifting sub-fields, I’ve also moved into a slightly different type of research. The institution that I’ve joined is focused on applied clinical research, which means we are more focused on finding and solving specific, immediate problems than just exploring. My thesis project was in engineering, which is also fairly specific-existing-problem-and-solution focused, but it was also a little more open-ended and definitely not clinical except in a very big-picture way.

As a non-clinician working on clinical problems, it is tough for me to identify problems that are more than merely interesting – they also need to address a clinical problem and take efficiency, feasibility, cost, and patient compliance into account. I keep coming up with interesting ideas, only to realize that the slight benefit of extra information may not actually improve treatment over the existing diagnostic techniques once time and cost are taken into account. I’m gradually figuring out how to balance this based on the previous and current work being done in my department.

I’m definitely looking forward to becoming more involved with our clinician investigators and collaborators and gaining access to their insight into the most pressing problems and how the proposed solutions compare to the existing methods of addressing these clinical challenges. I have a feeling I may get knocked down a few pegs, but I’ll certainly be learning and growing in the process!

** Any suggestions for strategies to overcome these challenges are more than welcome 🙂 **

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2 thoughts on “More specifics – why is it especially challenging for *me* to come up with viable research ideas in my new situation?

  1. Since you asked…

    A good portion of my training was in computer vision; I specialized in bioimaging as a graduate student. My advisor did his thesis on computer vision, and we had several projects (still working on a bunch!) that involved applying imaging techniques to clinical settings.

    I have no experience with orthopaedics–my clinical experience is limited to genetic and respiratory conditions–and I’m a Python guru, rather than Matlab 🙂 But otherwise if you’re looking for pointers in imaging, I’d be happy to help!

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