organized curiosity

Improving health care through research

10 Reasons Why I Hate Research

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Why I Hate Research

I should tell you, there was a time when I hated research enough that I nearly quit. When I finished my PhD (in the last century), I hated research. I had become a psychologist because I wanted to help kids. Although I did well in my PhD, I was so fed up that I didn’t publish my PhD research which was a series of studies on the measurement of social skills. I felt it didn’t do any good and would only be read by a few other scientists.

I applied only for clinical jobs. Unfortunately, the clinical job I applied for required I do a bit of research. I started some research on children with recurrent abdominal pain because no one could figure out what to do with these patients. It related directly to my patients and within three years, I was hooked on research.  During my career, I have spent thousands of hours doing my research, supervising student research, and I have published hundreds of scientific papers.  Although my days are now spent as Vice President of Research and Innovation, I can’t imagine how I could live without doing research.

But I still hate research at times.  Here are 10 reasons why.

  1. Research crushes some of the best and the brightest young minds. Research funding is so tight that some outstanding young scientists don’t get funding. For example, in the regular Canadian Institute of Health Research competition, there was about an 85% failure rate. With low success rates for grants, it takes an almost insane devotion to science to continue in research.
  2. Research doesn’t get enough attention in the media. Maybe this is unseemly whining, but I wish that instead of the focus we have on celebrities and athletes we had a bit more focus on my brilliant colleagues who are scientists. Did you ever notice that the newspaper has a large section on sports but only a few columns on science and research. If you look up what is trending on Twitter, it is never science. Not that I think scientists should be pursued by papparazi, but more attention would be good.
  3. Research fails a lot of the time. Many of my research ideas and those of other researchers fail. It is necessary. In fact, if you don’t fail in your studies, you are not being adventuresome enough. Failure of a study, if designed right, is just another data point. My first study when I started my research career was a failure and it taught me a lot. But it can be miserable to spend months working on a project to see it fail.
  4. Sometimes partners you choose are not good collaborators. This is fortunately rare and most collaborators are outstanding. Because research often requires multiple investigators with different skills, collaborators who don’t deliver can devastate a study.
  5. Sometimes it takes longer than I think it should to do a study. The most common problem in clinical research is enrolling participants with most trials not meeting their planned level of participants.
  6. Research takes a lot of your personal time and is often done outside of regular work hours. I don’t know of any top flight researcher who does not spend many extra hours on research.
  7. Sometimes research doesn’t go anywhere – findings not used, papers not published.
  8. It is hard to keep up with the rapidly changing field – must stay current by reading a lot of journals, attending international conferences etc.
  9. Research is sometimes not valued.  Even though there is great research evidence for a decision, this may not be acted on by policy makers and others.  This can be frustrating.
  10. Grant reviewers sometimes just don’t get it and give poor ratings to my proposal. But it is probably not their fault.  It is likely that I have not done a good enough job explaining the research or the potential value of the research.


~Dr. Patrick McGrath


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