In praise of doing research

An Irish intern recalls the thrill of presenting at his first big U.S. scientific meeting.

More than 30,000 delegates from all branches of oncology gathered in May in Chicago to share and learn about the latest in cancer research at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting. For the first time, I joined them as a presenter as well as an attendee.

While I had presented at meetings in the past, none were of this scale. Imagine a sold-out Rolling Stones concert at the O2 arena in London. Then add 10,000 people. That's the size of the annual meeting—a magnitude I could hardly fathom! It felt even more meaningful because I had just graduated from medical school at University College Cork in Ireland.

Courtesy of Eoin Donnellan
Courtesy of Eoin Donnellan.

In medical school, I was no stranger to research. After my third year (medical school is a five-year undergraduate program in Ireland), I took a year off to pursue a degree in physiology and do research in a local lab. The experience confirmed my interest in lab work, and I did more research my fourth year of medical school, eventually deciding to pursue a career in hematology-oncology. I approached a reputable local oncologist, who agreed to let me do research under his supervision. (See The Student Conference Experience for more on Mr. Donnellan's research).

As students, we do research for a variety of reasons. We recognize its importance in securing residency spots at prestigious institutions. Some, who are making a beeline toward a particular fellowship program, recognize the positive impact research will have on their applications. However, there is a deeper, more far-reaching reason we do research: to satisfy our natural curiosity.

Medical students are in constant pursuit of more information. We read a chapter of Berne & Levy Physiology or we attend a biochemistry lecture—and we find ourselves asking why or how the body works the way it does. Research allows us to mold our questions into a hypothesis and investigate it. For me, this kind of research was one of the most fulfilling aspects of my medical training. I strongly encourage students at all levels to become involved with it.

Research also leads to the amazing experience of sharing your interests and findings with others who care about the same things, and striking up allegiances as a result. Opportunity is omnipresent at meetings like ASCO. Blueprints are drawn for institutional collaborations; specialists share their expertise; students and junior faculty members learn from the experiences of their more senior peers and, oftentimes, obtain further research opportunities. Most important, professionals from all over the world unite with the shared aim of conquering disease.

[See Eoin Donnellan's Research for more on the student conference experience.]