Choosing a Research Project

Choosing a Research Project

Muyibat A. Adelani, M.D.

Assistant Professor, Orthopaedic Surgery

University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine


Whether you are a medical student, a resident, or even a fellow, you are often asked to complete a research project.  But how can you make this a successful endeavor?  Here are my tips:

Assess your interest in research.  Be honest with yourself.  Some of us know we have an interest in research, whether that be basic science or clinical research.  Some of us know that we have no interest in ever doing research as a part of our careers.  Many of us don’t have much experience with research and don’t really know if we like it or not.  However, many of us have research as a requirement for our training programs.  Having a good idea of what your attitude is likely to be during the course of the project can help prevent you from biting off more than you can chew and will let you know how much you will need to push yourself to get the project done without too much procrastination.

Know the expectations.  If this is a project that is required for your completion of medical school or residency, it is important to know what the specific requirements are.  Do you just need to finish a project?  Do you need to produce an abstract to submit to a meeting?  Do you need to write a manuscript?  Does the manuscript need to be submitted for publication?  Does it need to be accepted for publication?  The answers to all of these questions will help you figure out what type of project you can take on within your given timeline.

Select a good mentor.  Having a good mentor is critical.  I think a good mentor is someone who is experienced, interested, available, and honest.  If s/he is going to be able to guide you to the successful completion of a project, then s/he should have some experience in doing good studies and getting them published.  A good mentor must also be interested in being a mentor and engaging individuals at your level in research.  A good way to find this out is to ask your colleagues who the good mentors are at your institution.  Your mentor should have the time to meet with you as needed to help you complete your project.  My medical school mentor would often meet with me before going to the OR, or in between cases, or during her break in clinic, in order to help me with my project.  Finally, a good mentor has the ability to provide honest feedback on your work.  If you are not on the right track, it’s better to know earlier than later.  You want a mentor who will not only tell you when you are off track, but will also help you get to where you need to be.  Without a good mentor, it is very difficult to complete a research project, especially if you do not have a lot of experience with research.

Select a project you are interested in.  Regardless of your interest in research, it is very difficult to complete a project you hate.  If possible, pick a project that aligns well with your interests.  If you already have certain clinical or research interests, than this is straightforward.  If you do not have any experience, then think of this more broadly.  If you don’t like being in the lab or you don’t like animals, avoid basic science research.  Conversely, if you don’t like reviewing charts or patient data, avoid projects that involve those activities.  It is a lot easier to remain engaged in a project when you are genuinely interested in the results.

Select a project that can be completed.  Even if you pick a project that you are interested in, you should focus on a project that you can see from start to finish, especially if the expectations are for you to fully complete a project.  Picking a project that will take more time than you have will doom you to failure.  A good mentor can help you with this.  However, if you are looking for an additional project besides one that you need to complete for a research requirement, then it is fine to become involved in a major study that you may not finish, but is part of a more long term plan at your institution.  

Create a plan for the project before you start.  Once you understand the expectations and select a good mentor, it is much easier to create a plan for the project.  From the time I was in medical school until now, I have always written a full proposal for every project that I do.  That typically includes background information (including the rationale for the study), the study question that is to be answered), the study sample, study methods, strengths and weaknesses of the study, and the target journal for publication.  This will help keep you focused throughout the study, and it also is very helpful for the preparation of the manuscript.  Additionally, it is important to create a timeline for completion of each step of the study so that you can complete your project in a timely fashion.  

Good luck with your research project!

Commonly Asked Questions in the Orthopaedic Residency Interview

Commonly Asked Questions in the Orthopaedic Residency Interview

Muyibat A. Adelani, MD

Assistant Professor, Orthopaedic Surgery

University of Chicago Medical Center



Here are some of most common questions that I have both asked as an interviewer and answered as a candidate, and some tips on answering them.


Tell me about yourself.

Sounds like a simple request, but this can be one of the most difficult questions to answer when you’re nervous.  Come up with a thorough but succinct answer, and try not to repeat information that is already in your application.  Use this as an opportunity to introduce new information about yourself.


Why are you interested in orthopaedics?

Be honest about why you are interested in orthopaedics, but, if possible, avoid “typical” answers, such as stories about your high school sports injury or your desire to help people.  Everyone uses those reasons, and you want to stand out as much as you can.


Why are you interested in our program?

This is a really important question to be prepared for.  Your answer will show that you know what you are looking for and that you have done research about their program.  Make sure to have a good answer to this based on information available on their website, the personal experiences of people you know and trust, etc.


What are your strengths?  What are your weaknesses?

Again, find a way to be unique with your answers.  Everyone says that working hard is their strength, and that working too hard is their weakness.  Go for something different.  And offer ways that you compensate for your weaknesses.


Tell me about your _____________.

Fill in the blank here with research, community service, hobbies, or anything else that is listed in your application.  If you put something on your application, please make sure you can describe it and answer any questions about it.  Anything on your application is fair game, so don’t put anything on there that you cannot elaborate on.  Make sure to review your application before you interview, so you remember exactly what is on there.


What do you like to do for fun?

Discuss your hobbies honestly, but try to focus on hobbies that you more than just dabble in.  Interviewers want to see that you are able to deeply commit to something.  However, you will find that many of the people interviewing you have similar interests, so you don’t want to be in a situation where you claim a hobby that you really don’t spend a lot of time or energy on.  Topics where I’ve seen people get into trouble are wine and cooking.  For example, if you claim to enjoy wine, then you ought to know a good bit about it.  If you say your favorite wine is “red,” rather than a specific type of wine from a specific region in the country, then your credibility to the interviewer may be compromised.  I know it seems superficial, but candidates are so similar that interviewers are looking for any little thing to separate the candidates.  Don’t give them the opportunity to discredit you on a topic such as this.


What do you want us to know about you that is not in your application?

Again, it’s a good idea to review your application before interviews.  Think about what you have to offer as a candidate that is not reflected in your application and find a way to convey that during the interview.


What questions can I answer for you?

Another seemingly simple question, but it is one I think you must have a response to.  You’ll be surprised how many interviewers start off interviews with this question.  They may not have anything else prepared to ask you besides that because they have not had a chance to read your application.  If you don’t have questions prepared for them, you may be in for an awkward silence.  Just don’t ask any questions that have simple answers which could be found on the program’s website, like “do you have a night float rotation?” or “do you have a research rotation?”  You don’t want to suggest that you haven’t done your research ahead of time.

Being prepared for the most common interview questions can greatly help to reduce the anxiety of interview day.  I’d suggest writing down the answers and reviewing them before every interview.  Good luck!



How to Ace Your Interview

How to Ace Your Interview

William A J Ross Jr., MD

You did it! You have gotten an interview with the medical school/residency program/job of your dreams. Now what? In order to actually get the position you are after, you must interview well. Here are some interview “essentials” to help you make this process as anxiety-free as possible.

Know Thyself

Every interview has at least one thing in common…you. Knowing your own strengths and weaknsses  is a critical part of answering questions about, you guessed it, your strengths and weaknesses. A successful format for answering the question “What is your greatest weakness?’ , for example, is to mention a strength, then a weakness related to that strength, and then a correction for the stated weakness.

Research, Research, Research

With the incredible amount of accessible information online, it is criminal not to have sufficient background information about the institution and/or individuals that you will be interviewing with. Know as much as possible about the history, mission, vision, and future plans of the institution. Know where the prospective interviewers were educated and trained, as well as their various specialties and interests. Check the website, Google names, do whatever you can to have a thorough idea of who you will be speaking to and what is important to them.

Treat People the Way That You Want to be Treated

Remember that your “interview” starts with the first phone call, email, and/or text to the prospective school/program/job. ALWAYS be cordial and professional. You never know the influence of the person you are talking to/ corresponding with. Be nice! If “nice” is not your natural demeanor, then there is no time like the present to practice.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice answering questions BEFORE you get to the interview. Practice in the mirror, record your responses, practice with a friend or mentor. Prepare ahead of time how you are going to answer the most common questions. The more you practice, the more relaxed you will be during the interview and the better you will represent yourself.

Dress for Success

Try NOT to be remembered for you attire. You want the interviewer to focus completely on your answers. This means solid, neutral colors. Brown, blue, gray, and black for suits and dresses with red as an accent color are common and project professionalism.