Knowing when to stop your research

What do the Northwick Park drug trial and the recently funded longitudinal Life Study have in common? They are research projects that had to be stopped. The first due to adverse drug reactions and physical harm, the second due to a lack of participants wanting to be part of the study. These are not isolated cases, there is a plethora of research projects that have had to come to an end for one reason or another. Just this week we heard of a researcher who was leaving to look for other work after the data collection phase of their project had finished. They just couldn´t secure any further funding to analyse, use and disseminate their data. This is such a shame for the researcher who is feeling demotivated and upset, and is a waste of important potentially clinically useful data.

This week sees a whole series of #WhyWeDoResearch events happening on Twitter discussing all things research based, as part of the bigger Why We Do Research Campaign established by Claire Whitehouse.

As part of this Emma Blakey and Petra Boynton are going to get us thinking about when it’s time to stop. Our Tweetchat is called ‘Knowing when to stop your research’ and will take place on 18th May 12:30 – 13:30 GMT.

Emma is a newly qualified nurse who works clinically (as a staff nurse in infectious diseases) and academically (as a PhD candidate looking at unplanned readmissions). Prior to nursing she worked in public health and health improvement with a special interest in sexual health and health inequalities. As someone who is new to the world of research Emma is interested in how you actually know when to move on with your research and how to make the most of your data, ensuring findings are relevant to clinical practice, patients and clients themselves.

Petra is a Social Psychologist researching sex and relationships, who has taught research methods to students and practitioners in the social and health sciences and development. She has seen how often teaching on methods presents research in a straightforward, linear format with clear beginnings and endings. In reality, research is very often nothing like this. But because we aren’t encouraged to think about how to end our research people feel confused or uncertain. Petra hopes this Tweetchat will go some way to noting our goals while also being flexible in our approaches.

In preparing for this Tweetchat Emma and Petra discussed why research may need to end, and whilst none of these related to weasels (see our friend above), we did generate a wide variety of issues that could occur, these ranged from personal (illness, family, lack of motivation, desire to jump ahead …) to external pressures (to stop, or to move to the next phase).

We considered the importance of not wasting what research has been generated when a project or finance comes to an end. If a study ends before you want it to, how can you make the best of a bad situation and avoid research waste?

We also began thinking of all the reasons why you might need to stop research. Noting also that there may be times within a project where you end one phase and move to the next. How do you know what these stages are, and what happens if they overrun or you need to alter the steps you’re taking in your study? How do you cope if something goes wrong, forcing the end of a study? Feelings of fear, guilt or shame may be common. Are there places for researchers to acknowledge this or get support? What do you do if your error led to a study closing early?

Do you have any experience of having to stop research? Did it finish when you expected? Or did it end before you – or others – were ready? What happened in your situation and what did you learn from it? Perhaps you are in the process of planning a study and are looking to fix an endpoint, or maybe feel under pressure to close something you don’t think is finished just yet.

We would love you to join us to share stories, practical tips and research ideas in the Tweetchat. You can also add your thoughts before the chat itself in the comments below and we will return to all issues raised in a future blogpost that contains resources and materials to help with those research endings that are arguably just as important as research beginnings.

Join us on Twitter, Wednesday 18th May at 12:30 GMT. Look for the hashtag #WhyWeDoResearch

You can also see other events happening during the week here, there’s loads going on so make sure to tune in!

A storify of the discussion about knowing when to end your research can be found here. Thanks to all who joined in!

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