Mentoring vital to support young clinical academic researchers in their careers

The Academy has been working with the Medical Research Council and other funders to support the recently published MRC Review of Early-Career Clinical Academics: Enablers and Barriers to Pathways and Progression.

The report draws on accounts collected from more than 400 early-career clinical academics across the UK who applied for clinical research training fellowships or clinical scientist fellowships from the MRC, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the National Institute for Health Research or the Wellcome Trust in the period 2006 to 2012.

The report highlights that while many clinical academics have successful careers and proceed to senior leadership positions, this is often a difficult process and researchers encounter several barriers on their way to the top.

Overall, the single biggest challenge when pursuing an clinical academic career was found to be maintaining research activity (57% of participants), followed by being able to complete specialty training and regaining clinical competency.

Maintaining research activity was still at the top (38%) when looking at the biggest barriers encountered at career transitions between posts, but this time followed by the number of available positions and availability of funding (both at 20%) and the necessity to relocate (16%).

Thankfully, the report also found that over the years a set of mechanisms and schemes have been put in place to help researchers overcome these barriers. Personal mentorship and career guidance emerged among the most powerful enablers to career progression as a clinical academic, with 48% of respondents considering advice and guidance important in establishing their career. When asked specifically about mentoring the number rose to 57%.

This is welcome news to the Academy, given our well established mentoring scheme which launched in 2002. Our scheme was initially devised to help postdoctoral clinicians thrive in academic medicine but has since expanded to include MRC non-clinical postdoctoral fellows as well.

Through the scheme, Academy Fellows act as mentors to share their experiences on matters such as career planning and job applications, establishing networks and collaborations with other scientists and clinicians, and on the management of students and staff.

Mentors provide truly independent advice to trainees, providing insight and support to the mentee without vested interest in that individual’s career or research. This is because the Academy’s scheme recommends that mentees select mentors outside of their institution or network, someone they have and will not come across in their careers, in order to provide an objective sounding board from which the mentee can make strategic and personal decisions in their career.

Today, well over 470 mentor-mentee pairs have been matched, and we are extremely thankful to our Fellowship for dedicating their time to help early career researchers develop into the research leaders of the future.

A full version of this report is available from the MRC website.

A brief history of AMS mentoring

2000 – Savill Report recommends introduction of a ‘new, competitively-entered clinician scientist scheme’.

2001 – Academy launches the National Clinician Scientist Award scheme.

2002 – Academy one-to-one mentoring scheme established with Department of Health funding to support the new cohort of Clinician Scientist Fellows.

2005 – Walport report recommends introduction of clinical academic training pathway. 2006 – Department of Health evaluation of the Academy mentoring scheme. Subsequent expansion to include Clinical Lecturers in one-to-one mentoring, through National Institute for Health Research funding.

2006 – 100th pair matched in September.

2010 – 200th pair matched in February.

2010 – External evaluation to inform future developments of Academy mentoring.

2011 – 250th pair matched in September.

2013 – Introduction of MRC non-clinical fellows as mentees.

2015 – 470th pair matched.

 

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