Research as a trainee

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Research in different ways and forms drives the progress of medicine. Virtually all doctors are at least consumers of research and should have a working knowledge of the mechanics of research, though a period of time producing research is not essential to have this understanding.

Whether undertaken out of love, out of interest or out of necessity, research can grow to be interesting and rewarding and can add an extra dimension to medicine. For those intent on generating research in the longer term, some experience of research as a junior doctor is almost mandatory.

Contents

Considerations

  • Project
  • Supervisor
  • Research environment
  • Training opportunities

Academic Interviews

These are often different from interviews for purely clinical jobs. You may be asked about:

  • Previous research experience (or lack of it - may need to justify).
  • Why you are interested in research.
  • Whether you are interested in an academic career.
  • Your intended research topic (and why).
  • Your preference to do a MD or PhD.
  • How the research will help you in the longer term.

Funding

You need money for a salary and money for the research work itself. These are often linked, but not always so. There are several ways of funding research and much depends on the factors described above.

Some full-time research degrees, especially PhDs, may come as 'pre-prepared' packages with a provisional project and supervisor. In these situations, you apply for a studentship and if successful, the award will include a stipend (i.e. salary for the researcher) and costs for the actual research work (equipment and consumables).

For other types of higher degrees, e.g. an MD, you may have to apply for fellowships or scholarships. These provide a salary for a fixed length of time (not necessarily the full time of the degree) and a variable proportion of the money needed for the research work itself. Some do not provide any money for the consumables and equipment and you may need to have a supervisor with an existing research grant or apply for grants in addition to the fellowship.

Some clinical research fellow jobs which provide a salary. Often these posts have a component of clinical duties, e.g. the occassional on-call or clinic committment. Clinical work can involve duties at the local private hospital as a resident medical officer. In this situation, part of the salary is supplied by the private hospital in exchange for cover by the research fellows.

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The National Coordinating Centre for Research Capacity Development co-ordinate some higher training schemes that incorporate research.

Sources of Funding

There are numerous organisations that support research including research councils, charities and some governmental agencies. The type of funding you need will depend on what where you are and what you are doing (e.g. cancer charities will only fund cancer related work, etc.). There are also fellowships aimed at particular groups of researchers (e.g. young researchers with an interest in particular fields). A good research supervisor will usually know which sources are available and which are the most appropriate. Bodies including the MRC and Wellcome Trust have specific training fellowship schemes to fund post-Membership trainees undertaking a PhD.

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see also http://www.rdfunding.org.uk/Default.asp

Funding Applications

See considerations above. The bodies that provide research funding are generally interested in the quality of:

  • The applicant.
  • The project (scientific merit and whether it is deliverable within the allocated time & money)
  • The research environment.
  • The training to be provided.
  • The supervisor and all those to be involved in the training.

Full Economic Costing

Research funding is moving towards full economic costing. Previously, research funding covered the basic salaries of the researchers and the consumables used. Much of the costs of the infrastructure and administration was often absorbed by the research institution. Full economic costing not only takes into account inflation, national insurance and pension contributions, but it also factors in the considerables additional overheads incurred by research activity. These include your supervisors time, but also indirect costs incurred such as estate costs, as well as secretarial and other administrative support. These costings can be quite complicated and most larger research institutions will have a department dedicated to helping you with these producing these figures when applying. If your application is succesful, the same department will usually administer the financial aspect of the grant or fellowship.

Practicalities

  • paying the bills (locum, RMO)
  • pay scale - depends on whether clinical or academic scale

Project design

The amount of work to get a research project involving human subjects off the ground is not to be underestimated. But complying with good clinical practice (GCP) and providing evidence of that compliance at every stage of a project is also essential and you will become an expert on bureaucracy.

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see:

Honorary NHS contract

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UK specific

These allow you to be involved clinically with patients. It should also allow NHS pay scale progression while in research.

Referencing Software

Referencing software is a must-have. These are pieces of software that keep track of all your references and are designed to avoid the nightmare scenario of trying to manually index hundreds of scattered papers.

see Referencing software

This article is a work in progress. Please feel free to contribute to it.