Dr Farhana Mann, Clinical Training Fellow, Division of Psychiatry, UCL makes the case for undertaking a research-based MSc alongside training in psychiatry.
I recently joined UCL (though one could argue I never really left…) in the Division of Psychiatry as a Clinical Training Fellow. I studied Medicine at UCL, undertook a BSc in Immunology here and am also an ST6 in General Adult Psychiatry on the UCL psychiatry training scheme (what can I say, it’s a great part of town…). My current role means I have the privilege of spending 50% of my working week focused on developing as a junior academic. I share a shiny new office with some of the brightest and most enthusiastic trainees in psychiatry, at various stages of their academic careers. But over the years I have met equally talented trainees with a leaning towards research, who for some reason or other have found it difficult to take that interest further. One of the things that helped me, and others who have chosen academic training, was completing the MSc in Psychiatric Research at UCL (now the MSc in Mental Health Sciences Research).
I did the MSc as a core trainee, alongside MRCPsych exams and full-time clinical work. Despite the challenge of managing to get things done in time, I graduated with distinction and published two papers as first author. I would encourage other trainees not to be intimidated by the prospect of taking on a project alongside busy jobs – it is definitely worth it! A vital outcome was developing links with ‘real life’ clinical academics doing work that was genuinely of interest to me, and without the MSc I probably would have assumed I didn’t have it in me.
I asked some of my colleagues, MSc students and alumni, to share some of their experiences on the MSc:
ANDREW SOMMERLAD, Clinical Training Fellow UCL & ST5 Old Age Psychiatry, interested in social networks and cognitive decline
Dr Sommerlad is in his second year of the course (2015) and has found it an ‘ideal introduction’ to research methodology. He added: ‘the wide-ranging strengths of UCL in dementia research particularly appealed as I had the opportunity to be involved in basic science, genetic, epidemiological, psychosocial and pharmacological research. I had long been interested in undertaking research during my psychiatry training but found it impossible to get projects started due to the hurdles of navigating through ethical and R&D approval, organising data collection and manipulating statistical programs…’
ANDRE STRYDOM, Reader at UCL Division of Psychiatry, Consultant Psychiatrist in Learning Disabilities (LD)
His research concerns the epidemiology, etiology and clinical aspects of mental disorders in adults with neurodevelopmental disorders including intellectual disabilities, Autism & Asperger syndrome, and ADHD
Dr Strydom undertook the MSc as a trainee, and spoke about the course giving him direct access to ‘cutting edge’ research in LD, and his original work led on to further research avenues once he graduated. He was able to gain grounding in both qualitative and quantitative research methods, and students on the course benefit from UCL’s vast information resources. Dr Strydom would encourage trainees to apply at any stage of training, but pointed out higher trainees are often well-placed to manage the commitment through use of special interest time for example.
LAURA ALLISON, Medical psychotherapist
Dr Allison finished the MSc in 2011 and published her work on the use of rapid tranquilisation in the context of the development of antipsychotics in the journal History of Psychiatry. She now has an academic assistant editor role with another journal, and said: ‘I use the skills I learned directly and indirectly in my everyday work as a psychotherapy tutor.’
AFIA ALI Senior Clinical Lecturer UCL Division of Psychiatry, Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist in Intellectual Disabilities
Her research interests include exploring the impact of stigma and discrimination on the wellbeing of people with intellectual disability
Dr Ali believes undertaking the MSc as a trainee was ‘instrumental’ in furthering her career, and graduating with distinction and publishing her research helped her application for PhD Fellowships. She highlighted the fact many doctors (mistakenly) believe the only path to academic psychiatry is through being an academic clinical fellow as though it were essentially an all or nothing phenomenon. The MSc is a great way to conduct independent research without necessarily being in full academic training, but with an increased likelihood of getting into academia if one chooses to afterwards.
BERNICE KNIGHT, current MSc student and higher trainee in Psychiatry
Dr Knight is in her first year, and pointed out the new course gives students the opportunity to apply for scholarships for help with funding. She obtained a scholarship from Noclor and said: ‘The lecture timetable has fitted around my clinical commitments and although the assignments are challenging, they have all supported my learning. My experiences through the MSc have confirmed my ambitions to seek a PhD project but more importantly have aided my development as an evidence-based clinician. I would recommend it to doctors looking to further their expertise in research and/or to help them decide about whether an academic career is something they wish to pursue.’
STRENGTHENING ACADEMIC PSYCHIATRY
In summary, it’s a competitive process getting into research, but there is a very significant unmet need for more mental health research and more mental health researchers . A recent Academy of Medical Sciences report highlighted the need to increase recruitment into academic psychiatry and strengthen the field. So, if you are thinking about it, now’s a good time to go for it!
Open afternoon for UCL MSc Mental Health Sciences MSc 15 July
Dr Farhana Mann is a Clinical Training Fellow in the Division of Psychiatry at UCL. She has published research looking at outcomes in women and ethnic minorities with psychosis, and is also particularly interested in the area of loneliness and the impact this has on the development and progress of mental health problems.
The UCL MSc in Mental Health Sciences Research provides a highly practical training in research skills and opportunities to participate in the work of research groups at the cutting edge. A range of optional modules provide opportunities to focus on particular sub-specialties, or on epidemiological and clinical or neuroscientific approaches. Both full- time and part-time or flexible/modular approaches are available, the latter being appropriate for current trainee psychiatrists.