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Celebrating a decade of Edinburgh Clinical Academic Track (ECAT)

In 2018 the Edinburgh Clinical Academic Track programme celebrates its tenth year of existence. We speak to ECAT fellows past and present to find out about their experience of the programme.

ECAT (Edinburgh Clinical Academic Track) is a flagship Wellcome Trust PhD programme for clinicians. It is open to both medics and vets who have demonstrated the potential to pursue a career as an academic clinician. The programme is extremely competitive and offers some of the best research opportunities in the UK.

The ECAT programme was established in 2008 following the award of one of the first Wellcome Trust Clinical PhD programmes. It incorporates a clinical PhD programme together with academic posts and is supported by the University of Edinburgh and NHS Education Scotland (NES). 

Over its first decade of existence, the ECAT programme has had 60 fellows across many disciplines from Anaesthetics & Intensive Care Medicine to Virology and Infectious Diseases.

We chatted to a few ECAT Fellows past and present to find out about their experience of the programme and how it has impacted their respective careers to date.  

Rob Hunter

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Rob Hunter

Role: Wellcome Clinical Research Career Development Fellow & Honorary Consultant in Renal Medicine.

ECAT cohort: The very first one, 2008. 

Where did you undertake your PhD?

I did my PhD in the Centre for Cardiovascular Science, Edinburgh in John Mullins’ lab.  

Lay summary of PhD topic: 

I investigated how the kidney contributes to a rare inherited disorder that causes high blood pressure and salt imbalance.  

The benefits of ECAT:

ECAT opened my eyes to a world of research that I would never have discovered had I stayed in the hospital. It encouraged all of us to think broadly about how we could use basic science research to answer important clinical questions. And perhaps most importantly, as the ECAT community expanded, it provided a network of peers that has been a fantastic source of support and inspiration.   

Plans/hopes for the future post ECAT:

I have recently started a fellowship from the Wellcome Trust, in which I am investigating the mechanisms whereby cells in one part of the kidney (the filtering units) can talk to cells in another part of the kidney (the tubules).  I hope that this will allow me to establish my own research lab dedicated to understand the molecular mechanisms of kidney disease.  

When I am not busy being an academic clinician I enjoy…

Music, running, reading, eating, TV boxsets.  But most of all spending time with my family - including my children who are on course to join ECAT in 2039 and 2041…

Ken Baillie

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Ken Baillie

Role:  Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and Wellcome-Beit Fellow, Roslin Institute.

ECAT cohort: 2008

Where did you undertake your PhD?

The Roslin Institute.

Lay summary of PhD topic: 

Computational biology and genomics in severe infection. 

The benefits of ECAT:

Mentorship from the ECAT directors pushed me to move a long way from my existing training, and go into a field that was completely new to me - genomics and computational biology. That advice changed my direction and has given me an unusual and very tractable combination of skills. 

The run-through design of the scheme gives a great deal of security and support to trainees at a very junior stage. This is a bit of a gamble but it makes a huge difference, allowing trainees to focus on doing great science rather than always focusing on the next job application.

Plans/hopes for the future post ECAT:

I hope to demonstrate that genomics can help us make a serious impact on understanding of critical illness in humans. 

When I am not busy being an academic clinician I enjoy…

Spending time with my wife and kids, running, walking, camping. Going to the pub with good friends.

Katie Marwick

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Katie Marwick

Role:  Honorary Registrar in General Adult Psychiatry, NHS Lothian and CSO/NES Clinical Lecturer.

ECAT cohort: I started my PhD August 2013

Where did you undertake your PhD? 

Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences

Lay summary of PhD topic: 

Functional consequences of genetic variants associated with epilepsy and intellectual disability.

The benefits of ECAT:

ECAT provides great mentorship before, during and after a PhD. 

Plans/hopes for the future post ECAT:

I hope to have my own lab utilising the information provided by genetics to identify better treatments for severe mental disorders like schizophrenia and autism.

When I am not busy being an academic clinician I enjoy…

Being outside - hillwalking, sea kayaking and increasingly now tending to my vegetable patch.

 

Livvy Swann

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Livvy Swann

Role: Clinical Lecturer in Paediatric Infectious Disease

ECAT cohort: 2013 

Where did you undertake your PhD?

The Rowe Malaria Lab, Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences with field work at the KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kilifi, Kenya.

Lay summary of PhD topic:

How does a tiny genetic mutation protect Kenyan children against malaria in the brain?

The benefits of ECAT:

When I applied to ECAT, I had never held a pipette. The progressive nature of the programme gave me the space to explore many possible projects until I found the one that I loved. It also provided the freedom to meet many potential supervisors and not feel fenced in.

The excellent supervision and mentorship I have received has allowed me to develop confidence and autonomy in my research, whilst feeling supported and valued. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Plans/hopes for the future post ECAT:

The network of support from the ECAT directors and the wealth of experience from current students and post-docs is invaluable in navigating the tricky road of clinical-academia. It has given me the confidence to persist and I aim to apply for an intermediate fellowship in the next few years and continue my international collaborations.

When I am not busy being an academic clinician I enjoy…

Playing with our two and four year old boys. Their imagination never ceases to amaze me!

Antonia Churchhouse 

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Antonia Churchhouse

Role: Gastroenterology Registrar

ECAT cohort: 2017

Where did you undertake your PhD?  

MRC Institute of Genetcis and Molecular Medicine (IGMM).

Lay summary of PhD topic: 

Mechanisms behind bowel cancers in patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

The benefits of ECAT: 

The academic support and mentorship available to us from the outset - something that is often missing from standalone fellowships. 

Plans/hopes for the future post ECAT:

That's a long way off! But I'm keen incorporate academic medicine into my career.  

When I am not busy being an academic clinician I enjoy…

Heading up north for some skiing or walking, or organising events as the ECAT'17 cohort social secretary!  

A bit more about ECAT

Since the ECAT programme has proved so successful, the Wellcome Trust now only offers its clinical PhD programmes through schemes such as ECAT – there are 12 altogether including ECAT.

The majority of ECAT fellows become ECAT Clinical Lecturers and enter the programme early in their speciality training. Fellows receive 100% accreditation for clinical training followed by 3 years full time PhD training and a guaranteed postdoctoral clinical lectureship.

The programme directors are Professor Sir John Savill, Professor Neil Henderson, Professor Andrew Jackson and Professor Sarah Walmsley and the programme administrator is Joanne Ness.

Related links

Visit the ECAT website