You don't need to be signed in to read BMJ Blogs, but you can register here to receive updates about other BMJ products and services via our site.

Domhnall MacAuley: How to be a great researcher

19 Oct, 12 | by BMJ

Domhnall MacauleyWhat do you say when giving a talk at a university where you once worked?  To speak about publishing, research, and the BMJ would be quite straightforward. It was a privilege to be invited and great to catch up with old friends but, did I have any additional messages for those setting out on a research career?

When you have to look your old colleagues in the eye, there is no hiding place. Its easy to be an expert from abroad but these folk knew me well. It had to be good but grounded, encouraging but realistic, inspirational yet sensible. This is how I finished:

If, you are single minded and determined and want to succeed, you might follow these rules:   Focus on your own personal research idea. Develop your research portfolio as much as you can. Set yourself achievable targets and address each sequentially in a structured and organised way. Be aware of your intellectual property and guard your research ideas to ensure others less scrupulous don’t run away with them. Say no, if additional work doesn’t fit with your own research needs. Limit your distractions and aims always towards your own goals.

You will become a good researcher with an impressive CV.

But, there may be another approach: Rather than focus on your personal goals, you might work with others on a theme. You could help develop a team, encouraging and supporting talented others even if it takes away from your own time. You could aim high, in the knowledge that you will sometimes fail. You might share your ideas in a spirit of intellectual collaboration in spite of the risk that others might use them. When asked to help, rather than say no, you might try to facilitate others and look for ways to give a hand. Keep an open door and welcome questions, queries, ideas, and problems.

You will then become an inspirational researcher with a great legacy.

It’s not what you do yourself but what you inspire in others. Aspire to be great.

Domhnall MacAuley is primary care editor, BMJ

By submitting your comment you agree to adhere to these terms and conditions
  • Liz Walton

    Thanks for your wise words Domhnall. I have posted them round our department in the hope that we can try achieve some of them!
    Liz Walton

  • Wilke

    Dear Mr. MacAuley,

    my name is Andreas Wilke and I´m a phd student
    who is literally writing the last pages of his thesis. I really enjoyed
    reading your post, because it fits with my own personal reserach
    experiences. I´ll come to that later.

    But first I want to comment
    the statement “How to be a good researcher”. I think prior to this
    statement, the question “What is reserach nowadays?” or more precise
    “What is good research today?” needs to be addressed.

    I want to
    anwser the question with my own personal reserach experiences: In my phd
    thesis I worked on research I had to do and on research I wanted to do.

    Research
    I had to do was mainly reserach for specific projects in order to get
    paid. The success of such projects is measured by the community through
    publications. Even though that there is a knowledge gain for everybody, I
    want to call this kind of research “bad research”. Why ? Because the
    system demands that the unmeasurable “impact of research on the future”
    becomes measurable by counting the amount of produced papers.

    Research
    on the stuff I wanted to do I did out of curiosity, even when it meant
    to stay until 4am in the lab on a friday, saturday or sunday. This kind
    of research developed by asking questions about problems nobody has
    understood so far. Those kind of questions can only be addressed if u
    address them together as a team (exceptions prove the rule). I want to
    call this “good research”, because the questions and later the anwsers
    developed themself in a quality, which would have been unreachable if
    addressed alone.

    Thus, I´m truly happy to have read the sentence “It’s not what you do yourself but what you inspire in others”. I can confirm the sucess of that approach.

    Andreas Wilke

  • Wilke

    Dear Mr. MacAuley,

    my name is Andreas Wilke and I´m a phd student
    who is literally writing the last pages of his thesis. I really enjoyed
    reading your post, because it fits with my own personal reserach
    experiences. I´ll come to that later.

    But first I want to comment
    the statement “How to be a good researcher”. I think prior to this
    statement, the question “What is reserach nowadays?” or more precise
    “What is good research today?” needs to be addressed.

    I want to
    anwser the question with my own personal reserach experiences: In my phd
    thesis I worked on research I had to do and on research I wanted to do.

    Research
    I had to do was mainly reserach for specific projects in order to get
    paid. The success of such projects is measured by the community through
    publications. Even though that there is a knowledge gain for everybody, I
    want to call this kind of research “bad research”. Why ? Because the
    system demands that the unmeasurable “impact of research on the future”
    becomes measurable by counting the amount of produced papers.

    Research
    on the stuff I wanted to do I did out of curiosity, even when it meant
    to stay until 4am in the lab on a friday, saturday or sunday. This kind
    of research developed by asking questions about problems nobody has
    understood so far. Those kind of questions can only be addressed if u
    address them together as a team (exceptions prove the rule). I want to
    call this “good research”, because the questions and later the anwsers
    developed themself in a quality, which would have been unreachable if
    addressed alone.

    Thus, I´m truly happy to have read the sentence “It’s not what you do yourself but what you inspire in others”. I can confirm the sucess of that approach.

    Andreas Wilke

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
BMJ blogs homepage

The BMJ

Helping doctors make better decisions. Visit site



Creative Comms logo

Latest from The BMJ

Latest from The BMJ

Latest from BMJ podcasts

Latest from BMJ podcasts

Blogs linking here

Blogs linking here