Recently three Postgraduate residents from a Dental College visited our office. Their research guide told them to consult me as each one of them was working on a systematic review. They needed help with search strategies that they had worked on. The residents explained that as part of a project submission, they were required to do either a “Literature Review” or a “Systematic Review”, and their institution wanted them to work on the latter. I had done a workshop in this institution in 2017, and this was a follow up from their side.
I checked each resident’s search strategy. As expected, it certainly was not thorough. This is not surprising. Creating a search strategy for a systematic review requires sustained training and practice. These residents had certainly not had the required level of training and neither had any of their faculty guides.
I explained how they needed to modify their approach. As I explained, I used technical terms that I teach in our workshops. They understood well, absorbed several instructions that I gave, repeated some of them for clarity and said that they would rework their strategies and send them to me. At the end of this exercise, I asked them a question about the 2017 workshop. It was then that they mentioned that they had not attended our workshop.
It was their seniors who had, and they had taught these residents
the search steps
Now, though their initial work was far from perfect, it was wonderful to find out that they had learned a lot of the basics from their seniors. If these residents could understand all that I mentored them with, then that was an achievement in its own! This trend of spreading knowledge needs to continue. It is important to note, that couple of hours of mentoring from me, made them feel reasonably confident about improving their work.
It is also a fact that writing systematic reviews is a fairly intense effort and needs anything between six months and eighteen months for novices. It also needs to be done in groups. For these residents, when they had to publish individually, in less time frames, a literature review was a better option – and I told them to discuss this in their institutions.
In the long run, we believe that our online courses being made available in institutions can create a great environment for shared learning amongst residents and faculty. And we would always be available to guide them when they needed help. For now, I am delighted with these initial steps of shared learning.
Note: Creating search strategies for systematic reviews actually requires librarians / information specialists with specialized training. While some reviewers in the world have learned this art, most of them usually get a librarian to at least check their strategies. We need to create such specialists in our institutions