Edinburgh Clinical Academic Track (ECAT)

Feedback from fellows

Some of our fellows talk about their own experiences of ECAT

I have enjoyed my experience immensely, learned vast amounts about complicated topics and had the opportunity to work with world-leading scientists.  I would recommend it to like-minded clinicians.  The most challenging aspect for me was the transition back to clinical work.

It's been great. I've little doubt that my research ambitions would have been at least blunted if had I continued with my ST training in London.  Instead, I got to do an exciting project of my own devising - supervised by great people - and have developed some good connections and relationships, which will be key to continuing the work.  My clinical training has not suffered (I won't let it) and I can see a route to achieving the goal of surgeon-scientist (all be it perhaps not in the mould that is currently advocated).  ECAT's strength probably comes in the before and after periods of the PhD.  I'm sure I could have- and would have - sorted out a PhD project in isolation had I not been appointed, though I anticipate that it would have been even harder to maintain momentum in that context.

I have now completed my PhD and three years of post-PhD clinical lectureship.  As everybody warns you before you embark on a PhD / academic path, it turns out to be much harder than you think it is going to be!  I suspect that if I had done a PhD through a 'traditional' route (ie ended up in the lab of one of the academic clinicians in my clinical specialty) that I would have found it nearly impossible to continue with research beyond the PhD.  The ECAT programme has been empowering 1) because it encourages freedom to think well outside the 'specialty box; 2) because of the continual guidance / oversight of the ECAT directors; and 3) because of the support of a motivated and successful peer group.  I still don't know how successful my academic career will be (fellowship application in progress) but I do feel highly motivated to continue in academic medicine and that I will be well-supported in my fellowship applications - and that is all due to the ECAT programme.

From my own experience the benefits of having a group of peers at a similar stage in research training, and the support and guidance from the ECAT directors, are two of the major strengths of being part of ECAT.  Being able to access advice from senior clinical academics independent from my own clinical and research areas has been instrumental to my personal development and applications for further funding.
I cannot recommend ECAT highly enough to colleagues thinking of a career in clinical academia.  The mentorship and support from the ECAT directors has, to my mind, been a key part in my personal success.  Balancing an academic job with surgery has been tricky, but knowing that there is always someone there to back you up/offer advice has allowed me to prosper.

I cannot be more positive about how well I think the scheme has worked - the mentorship, opportunities, contacts, freedom and experience we have gained has been invaluable.  Most importantly, I think it does work as well as it can to encourage clinicians to stay in research.  Despite the difficulties of maintaining / pursuing research with parental (and by that we really mean maternity) leave and small children, I am still inspired to try, and to find a way to make it work.  Without such a support structure, and as the statistics clearly show, getting past the PhD stage can be too much of a hurdle so women are discouraged / prevented from sticking with research careers.  I think ECAT has made a huge difference to the women within it, in terms of at least opening the door a crack to let them back in.

This was the best decision/opportunity of my career.  Having seen friends and colleagues pursue an academic career outwith the programme has made me realise what a fantastic scheme ECAT provides.  The key ingredient for me was honest mentorship from senior members of the University not directly involved in my research.