ScholarTalk: Biomedical Research for Students

February 3, 2015

Welcome to the very first ScholarTalk post. In celebration of American Heart Month, I talked to Martin Gerdes, Ph.D., professor and chair of biomedical sciences at the NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine, about how students can get started on biomedical research projects. For more than 35 years, Gerdes has studied heart failure and his research has appeared in top biomedical publications. He's secured more than $31 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health during his career, including his current $1.8 million grant for studying the effect of thyroid hormones in preventing heart disease.

Sometimes identifying a topic worthy of research is just as difficult as conducting the research itself. For Gerdes, paving the way for a great topic requires three things: collaboration, technical mastery, and a lot of reading.

Thinking of going solo on your research project? Don't. Gerdes says: "It's important to first partner with an established scientist who will serve as a mentor." NYIT students have an entire community of scholars at their disposal. Ask professors what they're researching and how you can get involved.

Mastering basic laboratory techniques is also a must. As Gerdes points out, this mastery builds your confidence as a budding biomedical researcher and arms you with the skills to answer tough research questions.

Finally, Gerdes emphasizes the importance of reading to formulate a great topic. Approaching scholarly literature in the biomedical sciences can be overwhelming. He recommends a strategic approach: "Review articles may be of particular interest because they often point out voids in key information that is needed. Eventually the light bulb goes off. 'This is an important question that must be answered. Wow, I know the necessary techniques and can work with my mentor to design a project to answer this question.' Before embarking on the project, the student researcher needs to explore focused literature in the area of the prospective project. This will help fine-tune the project."

When it comes to research topics in the biomedical sciences, Gerdes offers a final piece of advice. "First understand what specific research methods will provide the needed results," he says. "Then read the literature and look for important unanswered questions to address with techniques that you will or have already mastered."

Stay tuned for Part II. Gerdes will share his advice for finding and participating in scholarly conversations on Tuesday, Feb. 10. For more information about his study and NIH grants received by NYIT faculty, read the latest issue of NYIT Magazine