This guide has been written as an aid to trainees intending to undertake a project, and submit a dissertation, under Membership Regulation M12(a), for whom it assumes the perspective of a trainee in UK higher specialist training, enrolled under the new curriculum (after 31 July 2007). However, much of the advice will also be useful to other candidates, including old curriculum trainees and those embarking on a university degree that may lead to submission under Regulation M12(c). It should be read as advice and not be seen as a substitute for the specific Regulations, nor should it be used inflexibly or be seen as the only way to achieve the objective. Each dissertation is unique.
While many trainees choose a project which could be described as ‘research’ (either primary or secondary), it is not essential to undertake a narrowly academic research project. Instead, the main focus should be on the skills required of specialist practice in defining questions for study, gathering evidence, and interpreting and presenting evidence effectively.
The key to success is planning, which will require intermittent attention throughout the early period of training. There is an understandable tendency to concentrate on passing the examination components of Membership and leave consideration of the dissertation until the later stages of training. This is unwise; you should start to think about your dissertation during the first year of training (generally ST3). Experience suggests that developing a good idea and laying the foundations for a good project take time. In any event, a delay in submission could mean a delay to completion of training if you find you need to revise and resubmit.
Read the journals, go to conferences and meetings and try to familiarise yourself with the current topical areas in occupational medicine and with the methods that are used to seek evidence and answer questions. Then try to match this with your own interests and occupational health practice. Discuss the question you have in mind with experienced colleagues, including those with knowledge of research. This will also help you with your preparations for the examinations.
The quality standard being sought is that of a university‐assessed MSc or peer‐reviewed research publication. Candidates often seek academic support and this is strongly encouraged.