Professor Rick Rylance: 'A fellowship can change your career'

Research Councils UK, Champion for research careers
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The Independent Online

The UK has been funding medical research since the turn of the 20th century. The problems we face today may have changed, but the need for research has not. The more we support this research, the more we can do to improve people's health, in the UK and worldwide. But the Medical Research Council (MRC) has also long supported students of medicine, nursing and healthcare and helped them build a research element into their careers.

Take Dr Jenny Crinion from University College London (UCL), for example. She is investigating why some stroke patients recover from anomia (a condition in which people struggle to find the correct word to match their meaning) and some do not, so that she can improve their treatment. She combines research with speech and language therapy through her MRC Clinician Scientist Award, which enables her to research the causes of a condition she encounters every day in her treatment of sufferers.

People working in a range of health professions have a lot to offer as researchers alongside those who have followed a more traditional career path. For Dr Crinion, the support she received from the MRC means she can help advance treatments and experience the excitement of discovery. She says: "Practically, the fellowship gives me protected time and dedicated resources to develop my own clinical research programme and team. In many programmes if you are not a medic or dentist then by default you are a basic scientist – which means we may be missing opportunities to address clinical research needs by using the unique skills of other, allied health professionals."

The MRC also funds around 50 Clinical Research Training Fellowships (CRTFs) a year. These provide funding for three to four years to clinical trainees undertaking biomedical research that complements their ambitions as clinicians. The scheme integrates with clinical academic development so that trainees combine their interests in research with their clinical training. Fellows can spend up to 20 per cent of their time training in an NHS setting.

Professor Patrick Maxwell FMedSci, head of medicine at UCL, completed his own CRTF 20 years ago and has since made important discoveries into how cells sense oxygen. Without his CRTF, he believes his career could have gone in a very different direction: "I was originally planning to be a clinical nephrologist (dealing with kidneys) and the training fellowship completely changed my career. I had never envisaged being an academic, or spending the majority of my professional life doing research. But the training fellowship led directly to me making important discoveries about how cells sense oxygen, and also placed me in a superb environment. The science turned out to be really addictive. Having started out I could not turn my back on it and just do clinical medicine."

Like all research careers, combining research with practice can be enormously rewarding and, like the other Research Councils, the MRC wants to stimulate and support the research leaders of the future. To that end, their fellowships open doors to a training environment that supports and stretches the many talented individuals working in the UK today.

More information about the Clinical Research Training Fellowship and Clinical Scientist Fellowships can be found at www.mrc.ac.uk. Details of funding opportunities across all of the UK Research Councils can be found at www.rcuk.ac.uk

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