I started planning my project about 18 months before I actually started. The project developed with my supervisor was a collaboration over the time and I slowly became more familiar with the concepts behind it. I wanted to do a basic science project rather than a clinical one because I didn’t want to rely on patient recruitment for my data and to be honest I wanted a real break from clinical medicine. My background to that date had been an intercalated BSc in immunology at university and I’d already had some research experience. I had also taken another career break after CT2 for a year and did a non-training clinical research fellow post at a tertiary hospital doing a lab based project in scleroderma.
At the time of applications to my speciality, there were no ACF numbers available so I had a normal clinical ST3+ training number. At every job I did, I tried to get at least one paper out be it an audit, a small observational study or a review. I had also started to do some “dry” lab work for my project using bioinformatics stuff- this I found difficult and involved giving up a lot of my personal time to actually do it. My supervisor did not have “soft money” to fund me for a year to take time out and properly prepare for interview or shore up my CV so it was an all or nothing venture and I had to get a fellowship to fund my salary and the project itself.
At my first attempt, with the Wellcome Trust, though I got short listed my interview went badly- I was unprepared, had just come off a night shift and had been working in a very busy DGH. 6 months later, I succeeded with the Medical Research Council for the following reasons
- I’d moved to a quiet job with no oncalls- more reading, more fine tuning of my dry lab work
- I prepared for my interview properly- took a week of annual leave and spent it at the lab reading and DOING things that I would actually be doing
- I used my experience with Wellcome Trust to learn where I could improve and knew what to expect from the interview
It is difficult and you have to completely be committed and hungry for it but if you want to do it and are genuinely interested in doing research and science worth it every step of the way. The opportunity to step out of the training treadmill and think about things, the seminars and being at the cutting edge of things people are doing is a fantastic experience. Mostly though- I love being able to take annual leave whenever I want!