Some of the personal factors that move one to pursue a research career transcend or precede formal medical educational experiences. Motivation and drive, or rationale and persistence, are certainly relevant in the pursuit of any complex goal. Formal education and mentoring may have some impact on these characteristics, but other, less tangible and less malleable factors are likely to be relevant, if not dominant.
Personal experiences that motivate one toward a research career include direct or familial experience with mental illness. Such is the case for genetics researcher Edwin Cook who said, “I do [autism research] because…I always wanted to know what was wrong with my brother and to help him….” (National Public Radio, 2002). Alternatively, one may have extraordinary curiosity and skill that lead to a productive research career despite the absence of direct support and encouragement in the context of formal medical training. This was the case with Eric Kandel (1998), a psychiatrist and Nobel Prize winner for his neuroscience work, who recently wrote that his psychiatric residency involved very little scholarly activity and virtually no research training. Despite these omissions from his training, he and many of his peers went on to become successful basic and patient-oriented researchers, evidence that skilled researchers can emerge from residency programs with little or no research training.
These examples are presented as a reminder of two principles. First, certain characteristics that correlate with research productivity are difficult if not impossible to shape in the context of formal medical training. Second, it is wise for any field to identify, support, and attempt to attract the brightest and most driven candidates, and to encourage them to pursue a career aimed at critiquing and expanding that discipline’s knowledge base.
In addition to motivation and drive, intellectual capacity and scientific orientation are logically correlated with research productivity. Research requires the ability to master an existing and constantly expanding knowledge base, and to formulate and test new ideas in an effort to clarify, broaden, or even revise what is known about the subject under study. Additionally, research productivity is dependent upon regular and detailed oral and written communications with peers as a key means of