June 29, 2007

Research Skills Workshop answers common questions

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Daniel Byrne, M.S.

Research Skills Workshop answers common questions

Paul Harris, Ph.D.

Paul Harris, Ph.D.

The nuts and bolts of medical research are rarely taught in class — Where can I obtain funding? Which statistical methods should I use? How do I get published?

That's why, seven years ago, the Clinical Research Center (CRC) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center launched a weekly Research Skills Workshop to provide just that kind of practical information.

More than 300 sessions later, the workshops are still going strong, attracting on average 20 to 35 attendees to the A-3210 conference room in Medical Center North nearly every Friday at 8 a.m. for a lively discussion, breakfast and CME credit.

While its impact can't be determined with precision, workshop organizers Daniel Byrne, M.S., and Paul Harris, Ph.D., point out that the volume of CRC-related papers has steadily climbed since 2000 and now exceeds 150 publications a year.

“The number of people who have benefited from this course in their career development is extraordinary,” said CRC director David Robertson, M.D.

Recent speakers have included Frank Harrell, Ph.D., chair of Biostatistics, who discussed how to handle serial or longitudinal data; Jonathan Haines, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Genetics Research, who described how to plan whole genome studies; and School of Medicine Dean Steven Gabbe, M.D., whose topic was entitled “How to succeed in academic medicine.”

Just about every year, Nancy Brown, M.D., associate dean for Clinical and Translational Scientist Development, gives hints on how to obtain research funding, and C. Michael Stein, M.D., associate director of Clinical Pharmacology, describes how to get a paper published.

“That's what we found people want,” said Harris, research associate professor of Biomedical Informatics and Biomedical Engineering.

A schedule of upcoming workshops, handouts from previous sessions and other resources can be found at www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/gcrc/workshop.html.

Byrne, the CRC's director of Biostatistics and Study Design, and Harris, who directs the CRC Informatics Core, said they got the idea for the workshop because they were getting the same questions repeatedly from researchers.

“Teaching is a good way for us to leverage our time,” said Byrne, senior associate in Biostatistics.

Two or three times a year, Byrne and Harris “walk about” the medical center, the workshop schedule in hand, signing up presenters. Speakers are encouraged to “demonstrate” practical skills using software, rather than relying on PowerPoint presentations.

In the beginning, the workshop “was totally unique,” said Robertson.

“This fills an important niche,” Byrne said. “One of the great benefits of these workshops is that it has broken down barriers and encouraged collaboration among researchers who would not normally work together. The workshops help to get researchers out of their silos.”