The Journey of Protocol Submission

When I entered the University College of Medical Sciences as a post-graduate student after a long struggle, needless to say, like all other survivors of the ghastly AIPG entrance 2012, I felt very happy. Yes we had done it!!! We felt like we were on top of the world… but for me, the enjoyment didn’t linger long. One “fine” day, our professors walked in and casually informed us that our theses guides had been allotted and we better start hunting for the topic. I was, literally, like: “What is a thesis?” Our entire medical student lives, and especially the last couple of years, the major skills we had acquired were cracking MCQs and rote-learning. Much like the hamster that thinks that the whole world is confined to its running wheel, we had a very myopic view of the world. So the business of getting started with thesis work was a nightmare… Go to the library, read journals, search PubMed, trawl through Google scholar, identify your field of interest, see the feasibility (also known as limit your ambitiousness), assess usefulness of selected topic, evaluate availability of resources to execute said topic, convenience – being a female student comes with its restraints, safety (for investigated and investigator), navigate through too much advice, which are sometimes conflicting, from department members… it was a veritable nightmare! On top of that I had my personal nemesis: language barriers! I hail from South India and hence Hindi is plain Hell-enic to me. But as a Public Health professional to be, I had (?have) to make an all out effort to overcome this barrier as well!

Although initially every topic seemed alluring and interesting, a little digging around would throw up more and more complications, until the pile of care transformed into an insurmountable mountain. However, after a number of meetings, long telephone conferences that pauperized me, running from pillar to post, I finally came up with a topic. I had designed my car and was about to embark on a road-trip, like never before, with just a bit of back-seat driving to guide me across treacherous terrains.

One would think that after all this I could claim a well-deserved rest… but alas, no… I had just been thrown from the frying pan into the fire! We had to prepare our methodology, calculate the sample size, determine our statistical analyses, conduct field visits and pilot studies – they were all foreign tasks for me. Preparing a Powerpoint presentation for the first time was also a challenge… This was then followed by the Departmental dissection of my topic. Suggestions were thrown in, and the topic and its methodology got further modified. This being the first time I had presented anything on this kind of an academic platform, the “performance anxiety” was also not to be undermined! Finally, when the last day for submission came, like all of my colleagues, I was also being run off my feet trying to tie the last bells and whistles to my protocol, getting it printed (then edited, then re-printed), photocopied, signed, stamped… and finally, with barely minutes left for the closing time to come, I managed to turn my protocol in! I guess the adrenaline rush of managing emergencies is still ingrained in me!

The first leg is done. I cut my teeth into the matter of serious research. The protocol is submitted, and there is unlikely to be any more major changes… for better or for worse. And despite all this running around, the reading, the learning, the forced-to-think-by-myself… to quote a brand much-maligned by public health specialists: “I’m loving it!”

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Should We Pilot Our Protocols Before Submitting Them?

This year, thanks to the changing of the system of the counseling process, there was a lot of delay in the starting of the post-graduation courses in general. In some cases, the residents joined in as late as July! Keeping this in mind, and the Delhi University rules, we really had to hurtle through the whole process of writing and submitting our theses. Now, whether the dates should have been pushed back and an exception made this year is a matter for an entirely different debate, but the truth remains that there was a lot of uncertainty and dithering in the minds of the residents prior to submission of their theses protocols. Which brings me to the next point of contention: should we have to pilot our studies before submitting the protocol?

Keeping in mind that the protocol is pretty much set in stone once it gets submitted and presented before the college authorities, I believe, in many ways, the protocol is of more importance than is accorded to it. It’s not like we can amend it every time we hit a hurdle. With some topics, especially with the ones from the socio-medical branches, it can be quite difficult to anticipate the possible hurdles, even by hardened researchers, and as newbie researchers, it is difficult for us to envision all the problems that we might possibly face in the process of executing our theses work. The best possible way to deal with this is when we do a short piloting of the study. This may be less important for the laboratory-based disciplines, like Pathology, Biochemistry, etc., but they do carry a significant amount of importance for the ones involved in clinical or community-based studies.

So, naturally, the question arises: should we be given the time and/or option to pilot our studies? And if so, then how do we frame the rules and guidelines to ensure that the student is not just abusing the longer time period given to him for developing a pilot study? As a resident struggling with a topic dealing with a marginalized population, shortage of time (owing to a prolonged leave due to poor health), multiple ethical, methodological and statistical complications, all I can say is that I would probably have been able to submit a more well-rounded protocol had I been able to pilot my protocol.

The First Post!

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. `Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?’ he asked. `Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, `and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’

Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland, Chapter XII, Alice’s Evidence.

Before I come down to what actually needs to be written, I am going to write down some random stuff … actually just letting things out… So I’m not a blogger or a tweeter nor would I call myself a writer (as one needs to write for that). Though I love writing and reading or I would say at least I dream about it, I’m actually writing something after a very very very long time. No wonder I am so psyched about it. I don’t know what practically went wrong during my MBBS that I lost touch with this side of mine, although not completely as I had practically started talking to myself about anything and everything, just talking out even to myself helped clear my head… weird, right? I know I can’t blame MBBS or anyone for not writing as I could have done it if I had not been too lazy and got caught up in the business of having a life…. Never mind, no regrets for my Undergraduate days, those memories, they will stay forever and I can go on about my how much I loved my undergrad days in Hardinge .. So when this idea of eThesis was proposed I was ever too happy to contribute… I really don’t know where to start or how to… but I’m hopeful this whole year of thesis is going to be a wonderful learning experience and I’ll continue to write and share my experiences regarding my research.

A lot of ifs and buts about the protocol shall follow but even before that a valuable lesson that I learned is to be able to think and more so, to be able to think with an open mind. When we think we question ourselves, when we question we look for answers for which we start reading and more importantly start observing… Some of the stuff I had glanced at daily for years, now I actually stopped and noticed. So the learning begins… this promises to be a fun journey ahed. Tag along, you might want to get caught up in the frenzy as well!