Having developed an interest in paediatric respiratory medicine I began to look at opportunities for research in this field towards the end of my core training. I began by looking at clinical research fellowships advertised on the BMJ website within respiratory paediatrics. However, the more I looked into clinical research, the more I realised what I was actually much more interested in was biomedical science i.e. understanding the fundamentals of disease processes leading to the development of new treatments. This led me to contacting the MRC and Wellcome Trust regarding funding. However, I quickly realised that applying to their clinical research training fellowships required a detailed project proposal, a supervisor and knowledge of costs etc. Having done no previous research in basic science I had no idea how to go about planning a project or even which area of biomedical science I wanted to focus on.
It was whilst looking at the Wellcome Trust website (www.wellcome.ac.uk) that I came across the clinical PhD scheme. This scheme is aimed at clinicians considering an academic career and have an idea of a project proposal without actually having a project set in stone. The application process for this scheme is dealt with locally at participating Universities and Cambridge University is one of these. Whilst in contact with the course director I was told about a similar scheme in Cambridge run by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre (www.cambridge-brc.org.uk/). This clinical research training fellowship in the translation of biological science to medicine was being advertised at the time I was enquiring.
After submitting my CV and personal statement I was shortlisted for interview and prepared for this by reading about the huge amount of biological research being conducted within the University of Cambridge and meeting up with some of the Principal Investigators.
At the interview it became clear that my basic science research experience was very lacking to say the least and to embark on a 3 year PhD in this area was a risk. I was fortunate enough to be offered a 1 year fellowship working in the laboratory of my choice in order to get some experience. After meeting with several more PIs and mentoring from the director of the BRC fellowship scheme I have been working since March this year in Professor Gurdon’s laboratory at the Wellcome Trust Gurdon Institute.
In general this laboratory studies the reprogramming of adult mammalian cells into stem cells which is a fundamental in the future of cell replacement therapy. My project involves monitoring a pluripotency gene during this process.
After the initial shock of moving from working on a paediatric ward one day to working full time in a lab the next, and the daunting realisation of how much I needed to learn for my project alone, I slowly began to enjoy my new role. 6 months in and I still have so much to learn but I am so grateful for the opportunity. I am getting results and hope to get a paper published soon.
I am now seriously considering a career in academic medicine. Being able to conduct scientific research and watching this translate into clinical practice for me would be the most rewarding career possible.
I now have a good idea of the project I would like to do for my PhD and am applying again for funding. Hopefully this time will be in a good position to get a 3 year fellowship.