There appears to be some confusion out there as to what exactly ‘veterinary research’ is, something that has become apparent through reviewing UCAS personal statements for prospective vets. Here I hope to provide a helpful overview so that it is clearer what we actually mean by scientific research, of which veterinary research forms a part.
The main points about what we mean by scientific research are:
1. It is the application of scientific method to gather data with which to test hypotheses and attempt to explain the natural world.
2. There is a generally accepted ‘method’ by which research is carried out, with the first step being the identification of a problem, followed by a literature review, in which the investigator identifies flaws or holes in the previous research which then justifies the need for further research. Designing the study then involves posing specific research questions, designing experiments to generate the required data, collecting said data and then analysing it, before interpreting, reporting and evaluating the study’s findings.
3. Scientific publication is the submission of original research, or possibly a review based based on and drawn from original experimental studies, to a journal, such as Nature or Science, whereby the paper is reviewed and critiqued by your scientific peers. This is a vital part of the scientific process as it lends credibility to research and the resultant findings and conclusions. If the reviewers feel that there are holes in the method or the analysis, interpretation and discussion of the findings fall short of the high standards understandably expected then they will reject the paper for publication in that specific journal. The scientist – note that most scientific research, and the papers that result, are very often collaborative, by which there is usually more than one author, albeit with one acting as ‘lead’ author – then has the option of submitting the paper to another journal for consideration, either tweaking, adding or otherwise ‘improving’ the paper or simply submitting it in its original form. This process can be extremely frustrating and drawn out for those on the front line of advancing our understanding of the world, but it is a vital process and is infinately preferable to the alternative, which is to simply be allowed to ‘publish’ whatever you like without any pause for serious thought about the methods, data and findings of studies.
Vets are incredibly important to scientific research as a whole, with many working in fields that do not necessarily have a direct, obvious link to animals, but which nonetheless increase our understanding of medicine, science and the natural world as a whole. Learning research skills and understanding the process is a very important part of a vet’s training as the skills learned are applicable to all aspects of veterinary, whether conducting original research yourself or increasing your knowledge through the reading, assessment and understanding of journals, whether primary papers (eg Nature) or the veterinary press, such as the Vet Times. Scientific research training nurtures and develops the curious nature of vets and the ability to ask sensible questions, consider methods and ultimately judge outcomes and conclusions on their relative merits. Intercalation offers vet students an incredible opportunity to really delve into original research in a specific field, and any vet who has intercalated would agree that their understanding of science and it’s methods are greatly enhanced during this year.
I hope this has gone some way to clear up the question of what exactly scientific research is and if you have an interest in learning more then I recommend following this link to Wikipedia’s explanation.