I first became involved in research as an undergraduate at Notre Dame, then as a graduate student in public health. During these early years, I felt very incompetent. I didn’t have many tangible skills, and felt uncertain discussing methodology or analysis during meetings.
Over time, I have built a repertoire of skills and now design studies. I recognize now that research competence is really all about skill building. If you increase your competence, you will inevitably increase your confidence.
Traditional research skills include: performing literature searches, developing methodology, writing an IRB protocol, collecting data, creating databases/understanding different software tools (such as REDCap), managing data, analyzing data, creating tables, writing and editing a manuscript, choosing a journal, writing a cover letter, submitting a manuscript, addressing reviewer comments, being interviewed by media organizations, and generating new ideas about future opportunities.
None of us have these skills when we start. I sure didn’t. I have had excellent mentors, who have helped me gain each of these skills over time.
A good mentor is a person who gives you opportunities to build these skills.
If you find a good mentor, invest in that relationship, express your gratitude, and be willing to work hard. And remember you are capable of building these skills.
If building these research skills feels hard at first, remember that all new skills feel hard at first. It gets easier with time, and it actually becomes fun, because you get to see your ideas manifest.