Academic training options
Research prior to applying for competitive funding for a higher degree (MD or PhD) can be undertaken in a number of ways.
Some specialties allow small scale research projects to be undertaken during clinical training. Clinical fellowships may also allow for this. The third option is obtaining a pre-doctoral clinical lecturer post. However this predoctoral research may not be required, depending on how a degree is funded.
Studying for a higher degree
Study for a higher degree is a full time position, and can be undertaken prior to obtaining a national training number (NTN) or as out of program experience for research (OOPR).
There are, broadly speaking, two ways in which a higher degree can be arranged:
- As a clinical fellow employed on a pre-existing grant or
- Obtaining competitive funding for an individual academic training fellowship.
Clinical fellowships from existing grants are generally advertised in the BMJ or on university websites. These are generally associated with a specific project or study.
A range of bodies, such as Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust and the Chief Scientist Office as well as specialty specific bodies fund individual fellowships. These are applied for as an individual, generally using pilot data generated by the individual or their proposed supervisor.
There are regular calls for applications from such bodies, but the need for preparation means that you should have identified a supervisor and worked with them to write the application prior to submission.
The Tooke report encouraged the option of taking one year OOPR for a research masters degree during the pre NTN years. Such degree courses are now becoming available, specifically structured for the needs of medical graduates, such as the M.Med.Sci degree at Edinburgh University. This offers a taster of research for those as yet uncertain of their career goals as well as useful research training.
Both these options involve being employed by a university on the clinical fellow scale.
Having acquired a higher degree, those who wish to continue in academia have several options. Post-doctoral clinical lectureships (see below) allow time for research and preparing grant applications for intermediate fellowships.
Sometimes referred to as clinician scientists, these posts are aimed at those who already hold a higher degree but usually have not yet attained a CCT. They are funded by a variety of sources, including MRC, medical charities, the Chief Scientist Office (CSO), NES or individual universities. They usually provide research expenses and salary for up to 4 or 5 years.
Clinical lectureships exist at the pre-doctoral and post-doctoral levels. Some schemes allow for run-through academic training combining pre and post-doctoral training periods, whereas others are applied for after obtaining a higher degree. Some of these posts are arranged under the auspices of the SCREDS scheme, others are pre-existing posts held by the universities. They are generally advertised once they fall vacant.
Advertised and appointed by universities, with the support of the relevant post-graduate dean, trainees would hold a substantive contract with the university and an appropriate honorary NHS contract. These posts are funded directly by the university or by NES. The posts funded by NES may have some tighter restrictions on time spent allocated to research than those funded by universities.
Unfortunately there is no one site or body through which universities are required to list vacancies for medical academic training posts in Scotland, nor a fixed timetable for recruitment. This can make it challenging for individual trainees to monitor possible vacancies to which they could apply.
Posts are often advertised in the following:
Moving between NHS and university employment
Unlike in England, all medical academic training posts at specialty level are university contracts. Academic trainees may be offered terms and conditions that are different to those offered by the junior doctor contract within the NHS, and we strongly advise any trainee offered a university contract to contact a BMA advisor on 0300 123 123 3.
There may be particular implications for contractual entitlements to sickness, maternity and paternity leave benefits. Although entitlements to sick leave, maternity leave and paternity leave within the NHS schemes are maintained on return to NHS work, providing the trainee holds an honorary NHS contract for the duration of the academic post, reciprocal arrangements are unlikely to apply to the period of university employment, with a significant impact on entitlements. There are also possible implications for pension arrangements.
Download our guidance on Transferring between NHS and university employment during training