Domhnall MacAuley: How to be a great researcher

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