I was interested in research as a medical student but I don’t think I could have dreamt that my career would evolve and change, continue to be rewarding and stimulating throughout, with new skills always needed on the way. It has been a lifelong enjoyable journey of learning, while I think I have made a positive difference to patients’ lives.
I think the high points of my career were my two fellowships. My first was a Wellcome Trust Clinical Doctoral Training Fellowship in the middle of my psychiatry training which I also combined with episodes of maternity leave and part-time working. I really loved the opportunity to decide for myself what I wanted to research and how I wanted to do it – which actually changed between the submission of my fellowship application and the interview itself! In the end, I had decided to focus on using large pre-existing data sets rather than recruiting my own clinical cohort. My second fellowship almost 20 years later as an NIHR Research Professor similarly freed up time from other commitments to work on research ideas I had not had time to focus on, build my team, and included a fantastic sabbatical in Australia getting to know new collaborators.
“You make great friends among researchers. Clinical academics are curious, intelligent, passionate people.”
My work as a clinical academic has led me to new avenues of research that I had not planned when I started working in the area of perinatal mental health. These have included a focus on domestic violence (increasingly a theme in both my perinatal mental health research and my clinical practice) and then, after developing expertise in research in this area, I found myself being asked to work on modern slavery and other forms of violence. It has been a fascinating journey and has led me to chairing of NICE Guidelines, policy work with the World Health Organisation and more recent work with Public Health England and NHS England.
As a clinician going down a research training track, the expectation is that you retain an element of your clinical work, even when pursuing your research – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“A research component makes your clinical work much more enjoyable, because you’re thinking of research questions that come up with your patients. It also gives you credibility with your clinical consultant peers. I also love the way research then feeds back into clinical practice.”
“It helps to be an academic to get some of these senior strategic roles, I think. As an academic you’re more familiar with the research literature. The senior clinicians you work with in guideline setting groups value that.”