Academic medicine has pitfalls for junior researchers

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.329.7469.798-a (Published 30 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:798
  1. Matthew Ridd, general practice research training fellow (m.ridd{at}bristol.ac.uk),
  2. Clare Emmett, research associate,
  3. Rachel Hardwick, academic general practitioner registrar,
  4. Sinead Wright, academic general practitioner registrar
  1. Academic Unit of Primary Health Care, University of Bristol, Bristol BS6 6JL
  2. Academic Unit of Primary Health Care, University of Bristol, Bristol BS6 6JL

    EDITOR—We share Clark and Smith's concerns about the decline of academic medicine.1 New entrants must be both attracted and retained.2 In March 2004 delegates attending a regional meeting of the Society for Academic Primary Care in Bristol were invited to take part in a workshop to discuss the problems facing junior researchers. Twenty four participants identified problems with, and offered some solutions to, issues of supervision, career structure, and funding.

    The relationship between supervisor and researcher was seen as important. Conflict may arise when the supervisor is also the “boss” and mentor. Some academic departments have dealt with this by dividing these roles between different people. The relationship between supervisor and researcher may also benefit from clinicians and nonclinicians supervising their own kind.

    Employment on short term contracts was thought to hamper project planning and career development seriously. Together with an absence of educational funding and conflicting personal or professional commitments, this made obtaining a higher degree more difficult. Clinicians were concerned that schemes such as the academic general practitioner registrar scheme may encourage young doctors into research too prematurely. A lack of career structure and means of progression were particular concerns to non-clinical researchers.

    Researchers said they were caught in a “Catch 22” situation, in which it is hard to get funding without a proposal, and hard to put together a proposal without funding. Non-clinical researchers thought that their incomes did not rise in accordance with their experience and value to the institution. To acknowledge the experience of non-doctoral research associates, one institution had introduced a “technical” grade post. For clinicians, the concern was the comparatively poor pay of academic work compared with clinical pay.

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    Many of these are familiar complaints in research,2 but we think they are particularly important to junior researchers. If the reported decline in academic medicine is to be reversed, we think junior researchers in particular need nurturing and support.


    • Competing interests All the authors are junior researchers.


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