The #yourpathinresearch campaign is highlighting the range of benefits for clinical staff of getting into research. We’re taking a look at some of the many different routes our staff have taken into research, and their top tips for clinical staff wanting to know more.
Dr Omer Serhan Omer is a gastroenterology trainee currently working on a PhD funded both by our BRC and the Medical Research Council, focussing on new ways to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). We sat down with him to find out about his journey.
What made you want to get into research?
I became interested in research following an inspiring lab-based project which was part of my intercalated BSc at medical school. Like many medical trainees, my experience of research before this point was limited and the prospect of applying for research fellowships was fairly daunting.
I really enjoyed the prospect of working at the forefront of science and employing cutting-edge techniques to make new discoveries. The project involved designing a study, recruiting patients and collaborating with expert researchers. We uncovered a new mechanism for bile acid diarrhoea, providing invaluable insight into potential treatment targets that could one day benefit patients.
How did you go about getting involved?
I was interested in IBD research but didn’t have any academic contacts in the field. I took the slightly unconventional route of cold emailing academic leaders in IBD units to ask about potential research opportunities. I was delighted to receive a response from Dr Peter Irving, who together with Professor Graham Lord supported my application for an NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ BRC clinical training fellowship to undertake translational research in IBD.
What did the Fellowship provide for you?
The Fellowship was a fantastic opportunity to develop laboratory skills and generate preliminary data whilst applying for PhD funding. The support I received in grant writing and mock interviews from both my primary supervisor, Prof Lord, and the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ BRC staff was excellent and the fellowship laid down a strong foundation for undertaking a PhD.
What are you doing now?
I am currently in my third year of research and generating some really interesting data. My schedule can be broadly divided into performing lab-based experiments, drafting manuscripts, some clinical trial work and a weekly endoscopy list where I recruit patients who are happy to donate colonic biopsies for research.
What is your advice for people who aren’t sure about getting involved?
It is completely natural to have reservations about taking time out for research, especially given the need to extend your training and the competitive nature of securing funding. However, the benefits of taking time out for research have been great. I have had the opportunity to critically review and write papers, present scientific data, collaborate with academic leaders and learn a host of cutting-edge techniques.
If you are unsure about the type of research, try to arrange a taster week. Your project may vary greatly from basic science, to clinical and epidemiological research so it is important to know what you will enjoy. Undertaking a short fellowship, like the one-year NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ BRC Clinical Training Fellowship can also provide really good insight into what a PhD will entail.
What are your top tips for people wanting to get into research?
- Reach out to colleagues/bosses in research to find out about the work they do and whether this would appeal to you. Gain an understanding of what research you would enjoy, the subject area and possible institutions you would like to work at.
- Be prepared to put yourself out there. It is unlikely that research opportunities will somehow find you.
- Maximise your chances of securing funding by developing your academic CV early. Degree class, prizes, presentations and papers do not go unnoticed when applying for fellowship grants.
- Always have a plan B and be prepared for compromise. If you don’t secure funding at the first attempt, ask yourself whether you are prepared to take on clinical duties or a salary cut whilst you reapply in six months time?
What have you gained from being involved in research?
Research has helped me develop key behaviours important in all aspects of work. Taking ownership of a project requires you to be a self-starter, organise your work and time effectively and adhere to strict deadlines. I have gained deeper understanding of my subject area and feel more inquisitive about other people’s work in the field.
Ultimately, I feel well equipped for the career opportunities that academia offers, whether that involves working on clinical trials, taking on a role in industry or becoming an academic clinical lecturer. I hope that sharing my experiences will be of help to those considering postgraduate research.