Research Tips

Sponsored by the SEA Research Committee (Section Editor - Ted Sakai, MD, Ph.D., MHA)

November 2021 – Self Determination Theory (SDT)
October 2021 – SEAd Grant Application
September 2021 – SEA Meeting Abstract and Presentation


November 2021: Education Research - Foundations and Practical Advice: Self-Determination Theory (SDT)

The SEA Research Committee provides practical advice for planning, executing, and submitting your scholarly works in educational research and curriculum development. Alternatively, we feature a summary of educational theories to broaden your foundation in educational research and curriculum development.  

This month, Dr. Lauren Buhl (Instructor of Anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School and Associate Residency Program Director at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center) shares an overview of self-determination theory (SDT) and provides tips on how you can apply it in your own research.

Motivation and the ways in which we can create it, maintain it, and direct it into useful behaviors is a constant in nearly all domains of life. As such, social scientists and psychologists have generated an array of theories describing the motivational process and suggesting how it might be harnessed to produce desired outcomes. In medical education, motivation is critical to achieving our goal of promoting learning among our students. Self-determination theory (SDT) is widely considered to be the dominant theory in the psychology of motivation, and as such, it is often a useful lens through which to consider curriculum development and research projects in medical education.

First developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester in the early 1970s, SDT stems from the principle that humans are growth-oriented and observations that we experience improved performance, achievement, and well-being when our behaviors are internally motivated rather than driven by an external source. A goal for medical educators, then, should be to create contexts in which motivation and behavior regulation can be moved from external sources to fully internalized. This continuum is described as follows:

  • External regulation: following a rule you actively disagree with because of threat of punishment or potential for reward
  • Introjected regulation: following a rule because it is a rule
  • Identified regulation: following a rule because you understand its importance
  • Integrated regulation: following a rule because it is consistent with your own personal norms and values
  • Intrinsic regulation: following a rule because it defines who you are

This process of internalization of motivation and behavioral regulation requires the satisfaction of three innate psychological needs: a need for autonomy, a need for competence, and a need for relatedness. When attempting to apply SDT, the question you might ask yourself while conducting an observational study or designing a research project is, “How well are these psychological needs being met?”

 Observational studies
  • Explaining a phenomenon that you have observed in medical education (e.g., attendance at resident lectures is consistently poor)
    • Studies of this nature often use qualitative approaches such as focus groups or semi-structured interviews.
    • As themes emerge during qualitative data analysis (grounded theory, framework analysis), SDT can be applied to see how those themes relate to autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
 Research projects
  • Comparing performance disparities across existing contexts (e.g., studying why medical students who participated in a problem-based learning curriculum perform better on clinical rotations that those who participated in a more traditional lecture-based curriculum)
    • The degree of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and individual components of autonomy, competence, and relatedness can be measured within each context to assess if differences in any of these components of SDT correlate with performance metrics (see “Useful measurement tools” below).
Curriculum Development
  • Planning clinical rotations for residents (e.g., developing a milestones-based schedule for progression through subspecialty rotations rather than a time-based schedule
    • Curriculum design should take into account trainees’ needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness as these can increase intrinsic motivation.
    • Similar to the “Research Project” above, curricula can be assessed based on their ability to quantitatively increase the degree of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and individual components of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
Useful measurement tools: see for a full list
  • Academic Self-Regulation Questionnaire: gives separate scores on intrinsic motivation, identified regulation, introjected regulation and external regulation
  • Self-Determination Scale: assesses the extent to which people tend to function in a self-determined way
  • Learning Climate Questionnaire: measures students' perceptions of autonomy support in their educational setting
  • Perceived Competence for Learning Questionnaire: measures how students perceive their competence in their learning
  • Basic Psychological Needs Scale: measures the extent to which an individual feels his needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are satisfied in general life or at work

I hope this description of SDT and its many potential applications will aid you when designing your next curriculum intervention or research project or even just in your day-to-day teaching interactions!

October 2021: Education Research - Foundations and Practical Advice: SEAd Grant Application

This month, Drs. Nina Deutsch (Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Pediatrics; Vice Chief of Academic Affairs; Director, Cardiac Anesthesiology, Children’s National Hospital) and Franklyn P. Cladis (Professor of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine; Program Director, Pediatric Anesthesiology Fellowship; Clinical Director, Pediatric Perioperative Medicine, The Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC) share the tips to make your SEAd Grant Application more competitive in the review process.

The Society for Education in Anesthesia (SEA) SEAd Grant provides an outstanding opportunity to fund a starter education research project led by aspiring faculty members of SEA that have no previous funding. First awarded in 2016, the $10,000 SEAd Grant is bestowed annually and stipulates that the recipient be given non-clinical time by their department to complete the project.

Here, we provide you with practical tips to help you to submit a competitive SEAd Grant application. The objectives are to stress the prerequisites for the grant submission, what constitutes a strong application, and the key schedule for your grant proposal submission.

1) Prerequisites of SEAd Grant submission

Your proposed project must be related to education! We will not accept an application purely on clinical research or basic research.

Applicants must:

  • Be a current member of the SEA.
  • Have received no prior non-departmental (“outside”) research funding.
  • Be within 10 years of starting an academic / teaching career.
  • Present an original education research idea.
  • Name a mentor and submit a mentoring plan.
  • Have the full support of the Departmental Chair, who must sign off on the grant application and agree to grant the applicant additional non-clinical time (minimum of 2 non-clinical days per month), if awarded.
  • Submit a budget plan. This grant does not cover overhead or salaries, as it is a starter grant. While the SEAd grant cannot be applied to salary support, it can be used to support costs for professional services from salaried professionals that are essential for the planning or execution of the project (e.g. statistician fees).
  • Agree to present the completed study (or a progress report) at the Spring SEA Meeting following the award, including a financial report detailing how the grant was used.
  • Submit a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal for publication, with acknowledgement of SEAd Grant funding.

2) What Constitutes a Strong Submission

The SEAd Grant was created with the intention to fund innovative education research projects which will improve the learning opportunities of trainees, medical students, and/or faculty members. Some key points that make applications stronger during consideration:

  • The proposal should address a novel and interesting area within anesthesiology education in which there is a current gap in knowledge. Strong applications provide background information regarding the current state of education in the area that the project aims to address so that the selection committee better understands the need for the proposed study.
  • The study should have a clear and relevant question that it will answer. The applicant should explicitly state the purpose of the project and specific aims that the project will accomplish. Projects with clearly defined and achievable goals are more likely to be funded.
  • There should be a stated hypothesis that is in-line with the specific aims of the project.
  • The project’s design and methods should be well described so that the selection committee can best understand how the study will be carried out. This should include defining:
    • Who will the study subjects be?
    • What interventions will be implemented?
    • How will the researcher measure the impact of the proposed intervention so that it can be compared to the current baseline? Strong projects have a measurable impact beyond learner satisfaction. This can include a demonstrated improvement in knowledge, behavior or impact on patient care (Kirkpatrick 2, 3, and 4 levels).
  • A description of the proposed statistical analysis should be provided. Strong applications have been reviewed by a statistician to confirm that the sample size and study methods will achieve the desired goal.
  • Potential areas of error or complications that could be encountered should be addressed so that the committee can see that these will be addressed should they arise.
  • Projects should be applicable to other learners in the future. Descriptions of how a project can have a wider future impact allow the committee to see that the grant can have a stronger impact in the field.
  • The applicant should have the appropriate resources and mentorship in place to help the project be successful. A strong letter from the mentor and the Chair of their department that describes these resources will help the committee see that these needs can be met. While a mentor does not need to be within the same department as the principal investigator, there needs to be evidence that they will be able to have a productive working relationship.
  • The project can be completed within the one-year timeframe of the grant cycle and with the proposed budget.

3) Key Schedule

The SEAd Grant application process will consist of two phases. The selection committee will review all Phase 1 applications and will invite the top three applicants to complete Phase 2.

Phase 1 should include the following and must be submitted to [email protected]:

  1. Abstract (500-word limit) to briefly describe the study and the intent of the study.
  2. Budget (please take into consideration that the grant does not cover overhead or salaries, as it is a starter grant).
  3. CV.

Phase 1 begins 10/01/2021 with the deadline of 01/03/2022. From 01/03/2022 through 01/21/2022, the Selection Committee will review the abstracts and invite the top three abstracts to complete Phase 2. Applicants will be notified of a decision around 1/28/2022.

Phase 2 will include the following and must be submitted to [email protected]:

  1. Bio sketch of applicant (click to download).
  2. Bio sketch of the mentor(s) (click to download).
  3. A personal statement (part of bio sketch).
  4. Detailed research plan – should include the objective, background and significance, design and methods, and references.
  5. Mentoring plan.
  6. Letters of support and commitment from:
    1. Chair-must agree to additional non-clinical time (minimum of 2 non-clinical days per month).
    2. Mentor(s).

Phase 2 of the application process will occur from 01/28/2022 with the deadline of 02/28/2022. The recipient of the SEAd Grant is expected to participate in the SEA Spring Meeting (April 8, 2022 to April 10, 2022). At this meeting, the recipient will be announced during the awards session on April 9, 2022.

We hope the above tips will be helpful to you as you write your SEAd Grant proposal. We are looking forward to receiving your submission!

September 2021: Education Research - Foundations and Practical Advice: SEA Meeting Abstract and Presentation

The SEA Research Committee provides practical advice for planning, executing, and submitting your scholarly works in educational research and curriculum development. Alternatively, we feature a summary of educational theories to broaden your foundation in educational research and curriculum development.

This month, Drs. Deborah Schwengel (Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) and Melissa Davidson (Professor of Anesthesiology, the University of Vermont Medical Center) share the tips to make your Spring SEA meeting abstract and presentation more completive in the review process. 

This piece aims to provide you practical tips to help you construct a competitive abstract for the Spring SEA meeting. The objectives are to stress the prerequisites for the SEA Spring meeting abstract submission, what constitutes a strong abstract in the “Innovative Curriculum” section and “Research” section, respectively, and the key schedule for your abstract submission to the 2022 Spring SEA meeting on April 8-10, 2022, at Pittsburgh, PA. 

1) Prerequisites of SEA Spring meeting abstract submission

Your abstract must be related to education! Be aware, especially if you are planning to submit a research abstract. We will not accept an abstract purely on clinical research or basic research.

2) Innovation Curriculum Abstract 

This category welcomes any “innovative curriculum” which has improved the learning opportunity of trainees, medical students, and faculty members.

However, to write a solid abstract to get into the prestigious Oral Presentation, where the Philip Liu Best Abstract Award with a cash prize of $1,000 will be chosen, you would like to demonstrate the evidence of curriculum implementation.

A survey of the learners’ impressions or a report of before-and-after knowledge gain (e.g. pre-/post-test) could be evidence of curriculum implementation.

Attached here is the Philip Liu Best Innovative Curriculum Abstract Award winner's submission at the 2021 SEA Spring meeting for your reference.

If you have multiple outcomes to present, you could consider submitting your abstract to Research Abstract Category instead. 

3) Research Abstract 

The SEA Research Committee is updating the scoring rubric to differentiate the strengths and weaknesses of the submitted abstracts to select candidates for the Philip Liu Best Research Abstract Award. We believe the best advice to you is to share our core scoring rubric at this point; thus, you will have an opportunity to review and improve your abstract critically. We have set two evaluation components: Analytic and Holistic.

Analytic evaluations: 

  1. Is the study’s research question clear and relevant?
  2. Does the study add anything new to current knowledge and understanding? Are topic, methods, findings novel?
  3. Does the study test a stated hypothesis?
  4. Is the design of the study appropriate to the research question?
  5. Do the study methods address vital potential sources of error, bias, and impact of variables?
  6. Were the statistical analyses appropriate and applied correctly?
  7. Is there a clear statement of findings?
  8. Does the data support the authors’ conclusions?
  9. Are there any conflicts of interest or ethical concerns?
  10. Is the writing coherent and effective?

Holistic evaluations:

  1. Is the topic interesting, and would you like to hear it as an oral presentation?
  2. Impact/relevance – would you incorporate this into your program’s teaching?

We admit you cannot address the Holistic evaluations directly; however, the list of the items in the Analytic evaluations could help you review your abstract before submission critically.  

Attached here is the Philip Liu Best Research Abstract Award winner's submission at the 2021 SEA Spring meeting for your reference.

4) Key Schedule

  • 9/1/2021 – 11/1/2021: Submission Period
  • 11/1/2021 – 12/1/2021: Review Period
  • 12/1/2021 – 12/10/2021: Selection Period
  • 12/15/2021: Notification of Acceptance/Rejection and presentation format (Oral vs. Poster)

We hope the above tips would be of help for your abstract writing. We are looking forward to receiving your abstract submission!