Dipping a toe in the water

Junior doctor Teresa Tsakok is a Core Medical Trainee at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals. She is also an Academic Clinical Fellow funded by the National Institute for Health Research, giving her 3 months a year of protected research time which she uses to try and answer scientific questions in the fields of allergy and dermatology. She says, ‘It’s a brilliant job!’ She really enjoys the variety and relative freedom, but has found that there is, ‘a distinct lack of opportunities for clinical academic trainees in the UK to meet up’.

Teresa is not alone in this view, which is what makes events like the Academy’s Spring Meeting for Clinician Scientists in Training so important. ‘It was the Academy’s advertising that really caught my eye,’ says Teresa. ‘With an event like this, there’s a feeling that you’re all in the same boat, despite being of different grades and completely different specialties.’ With a busy schedule of clinical training and a long list of research questions to answer, time away from her day job is hard to come by, but is something that Teresa feels is very important. ‘I suspected I’d be one of the most junior trainees at the meeting, so I was also looking forward to meeting people who would inspire me to continue my journey along the integrated academic training pathway.’

As well as being a fantastic opportunity for clinician scientists to network and draw support from others at similar career stages, the meeting provides opportunities for attendees to dip their toe in the water when it comes to presenting their research in front of senior academics. The abstract that Teresa submitted to attend the meeting was selected for one of the oral presentation competitions, so she soon found herself with what she describes as the ‘unexpected bonus’ of having to prepare a talk to showcase her project. The opportunity was daunting for Teresa. ‘I’d been seriously dreading being grilled by the panel of experts after my talk, and having the whole thing filmed by a TV crew just felt like it would add insult to injury,’ she said. However, the aspect she feared the most turned out to be a highlight. ‘It was surreal to stand there and realise that people were genuinely interested in my work and wanted to know more about it’.

The meeting provides a supportive environment where attendees can get impartial advice from those far removed from their department or specialty, something Teresa also found incredibly helpful. She adds that at the meeting she ‘learned, the hard way, that if you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s not the end of the world – nobody is trying to catch you out’. But attendees at the meeting were generous with their feedback, with several offering constructive criticism and advice on her project and the way she had presented it. This is something that Teresa says was ‘happening everywhere – throughout the poster sessions, in the corridors and over lunch. It was a hugely stimulating environment to be immersed in for a day’.

That stimulating environment is something that Teresa thinks all clinical academic trainees should take advantage of, and her advice to those considering attending the Spring Meeting in 2014 is simple, ‘Just submit an abstract – even if the project is unfinished from your point of view, it’s still likely to be a valuable piece of work that others will find interesting. The advice and feedback you will get on the day will be incredibly helpful’.

The 2013 Spring Meeting for Clinician Scientists in Training was held on 27 February at the Royal College of Physicians. Over 200 clinical academic trainees, Fellows and guests came to hear inspirational talks, network with colleagues and discuss their work. The 2013 meeting marked the start of a new and exciting collaboration with The Lancet, which funded a prestigious prize for the winner of the Young Investigator competition and published the meeting abstract booklet as a special issue.

The 2014 meeting will take place on 26 February 2014.

Watch – videos from the 2013 Spring Meeting

The abstract booklet from the 2013 Spring Meeting, and a podcast of the winning presentation from the Young Investigator competition, are available to download from The Lancet’s website 

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