One of the greatest task of anyone bench researcher (meaning work done in the laboratory on cells/mice etc) is the clinical relevance to what is actually happening in the real world (aka translational research).
You may find yourself overly consumed with getting results day in and day out. You keep reading endless papers about what is going on in your specific field, BUT never lose sight of why you do research in the first place. While it is great to push out tons of articles, go to mind stimulating conferences and reach your research goals... I have found there can be missing aspects of the PhD process.
In the summer of 2013, I set out to Kisumu, Kenya (East Africa) to better my understanding of HIV pandemic, as well as to truly venture into the neurological impact of HIV and the drugs. For those who do not know, 69% of HIV cases are in sub-Saharan Africa. With Kenya ranking 12th in the world for HIV/AIDS as one of the causes of death, with highest rates prevalent in the Nyanza province (this is where Kisumu is located).
So for 3 months, I embarked on a journey to learn more beyond my cells and mice and the experience continues to fuel my daily routine to this day.
I worked at Centers of Disease Control and Prevention/Kenya Medical Research Institute (CDC/KEMRI) where I was able to see the aspects of drug resistance, viral load quantification, and HIV testing at a magnitude I could not believe. Every morning, I walked in amazed by the endless movements of blood samples to the lab whether actual plasma/serum blood samples or dry blood spots that had to be done in a timely fashion. However, what came most to my attention is the fact that there was no focus on any other aspects of the virus in Kenya beyond those of immunological significance (opportunistic infections)
So here I was thinking, my research is SOOOO IMPORTANT!! When no laboratory focused on neurological impacts of HIV and the drugs taken AT ALL (or NeuroAIDS as it is referred to my field)! This is a country ranked 12th in the WORLD for HIV... shouldn't it be important??
So, in my spare time I dug deeper into understanding more about the lack of focus on NeuroAIDS. Turns out, NeuroAIDS is under-diagnosed in most resource limited areas/developing countries. Truth be told, there are just not enough specialized individuals that will focus on that. In fact, there are .03 neurologist for ever 100,000 Kenyans, vs 2.96 in America.
What the heck does that even mean Dr. Wanderlust???
It means, in Kenya there is 1 neurologist for about every 3 million Kenyans, while in America, there is 1 neurologist for about 30,000 Americans! Get the Picture??
Beyond this, there is a greater focus on more life threatening disease and outcomes: Malaria, TB, HIV. Why would someone telling forgetting where they put their keys everyday be of more importance and worthy of research, than the greater population that is fighting to survive.
I walked away from my experience in Kenya with a new perspective on my research. I not only buckled down even more than I was before but started thinking outside what I considered relevant research. It is my goal to work in developing countries (especially that of my home country of Jamaica) so my research focus has shifted just a little to incorporate something I am passionate about.
Now I am not saying you have to go out there, jump on a plane and go to a developing country. You may not even have to leave your city or even your campus. What makes your research relevant is right under your nose.
So where do you start:
- Read more clinical articles that are not related to research at all. Just the simple day in and day out of patients/doctors in your area of interest.
- If your research is on Alzheimer's/Parkinson's etc, make it a point to volunteer or shadow clinicians actually in those areas. What you see at the bedside may blow your mind and give you even more push to your research and keeping it clinically relevant.
I am challenging you to find out just how relevant your research really is. Is it really in line with your end goal?
Share your thoughts on this article below. I welcome your comments and input!!