A career in academic medicine – it is for me?

Author:Dr Rachel Jennings

Author: Dr Rachel Jennings

NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer

Rachel is an NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer (ACL) in Endocrinology and Diabetes. She is currently carrying out clinical training at CMFT, whilst at the same time undertaking research at the University of Manchester.

What do I do?

I am an NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer (ACL) in Endocrinology and Diabetes. I am currently carrying out clinical training at CMFT, whilst at the same time undertaking research at the University of Manchester. My research interests are in how the human pancreas develops, specifically how beta cells (the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin) develop normally. Understanding pancreas development is crucial to enhancing research around cell replacement and regeneration of beta cells as a potential treatment for diabetes.

How did I get here?

I have always had an interest in research from my days as an undergraduate, after undertaking an intercalated BSc in Pathology. In 2010 the opportunity arose for me to take time out of my clinical training to study for a PhD. I was successful in obtaining an MRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship, which allowed me to spend three years out of programme whilst studying for a PhD. Following this I continued my clinical training before taking a post as an ACL. Being an ACL allows me to develop my research interests alongside clinical training. I have recently been awarded an Academy of Medical Sciences Starter Grant for Clinical Lecturers, which provides funding for consumables – this will enable me to strengthen my research and develop my future career as a clinical academic.

Why undertake research?

Undertaking a period of research enables you to gain an in depth understanding of an area of interest, and to become the expert in your chosen field. It provides the opportunity to further scientific knowledge, helping develop next generation treatments. The ability to further your understanding in a particular scientific area, or to influence patient treatment and care, is very rewarding.

What are the best bits of a career in academic medicine?

  • The opportunity to ask scientific questions and attempt to answer them
  • The chance to learn new skills such as experimental techniques, presentation skills etc.
  • The chance to communicate your research to a wide audience, such as international conferences, public engagement
  • Job is very varied and stimulating
  • The ability to shape your career
  • The feeling of accomplishment when your research is recognised, or has an impact on patient care

…and the worst bits?

  • Trying to juggle clinical and research commitments – you effectively have two full time jobs.
  • Taking your work home with you, often working evenings and weekends on grant applications, manuscripts, marking etc.
  • Training is prolonged, and you can feel ‘left behind’ your colleagues
  • It can be difficult to juggle work with family life
  • Constant need to apply for funding, and dealing with the (often frequent) rejections!

Fancy a career in academic medicine?

Experience of research early on in your career is desirable – through intercalated degrees or involvement in audits or small research projects. Always take the opportunity to get involved in research wherever you can. The academic foundation programme allows foundation doctors to spend up to four months in an academic placement, to get research experience. Academic Clinical Fellowships allow core trainees to spend 25% of their time undertaking research, which can generate enough data to go forward and undertake a higher degree.

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