My journey to becoming a doctor was what you might call “the scenic route”. Medical school was my second degree and, while this has many advantages, it also came with some draw backs, mainly financial. Here’s my experience of when you want to do research but need to pay for your degree.
There are many fantastic opportunities to get involved in both paid and unpaid research and I would strongly encourage everyone who is interested to explore both these options. My dilemma, and something more and more undergrads not just postgrads are experiencing due to the rise of tuition fees and cost of living, is balancing paid work over CV-enhancing research.
I was fortunate to go to a forward thinking small medical school with a modern curriculum. Around the start of my second year I became frustrated that there were a lot of opportunities for students to get involved in research but, often, they were during the summer “holidays”. For me, holidays were a crucial time resource for funding my degree; doing research for free was not an option. Some studentships offered a stipend, a small amount of money to cover living and expenses over Summer, but I needed to cover my fees and living costs for the whole year. As a result, I ended up exploring other options in order to get research experience.
It became apparent that very few scholarships were available for research during term time and that’s fair enough. After all, many universities do not want students becoming side-tracked by producing research rather than focussing on their studies.
A colleague and I decided to try our luck anyway. We approached the head of medical school to try and get some term time opportunities out of him. Once again, the answer was “no”, but she put us in touch with the local CCG to see if they could offer anything.
At the time they were looking for help on multiple projects and were willing to pay for “cheap labour”. My colleague and I were keen to produce good work and a mutual beneficial relationship then followed. Following our early sucess students in younger years were keen to get involved. At the same time a research society was established for which I sat on the board advertising research opportunities, locally and nationally.
However, we were soon reminded that students being distracted from their work was not in line with the university’s priorities. Although the CCG were keen to utilise the bright, enthusiastic resource of medical students, it became apparent that should a student fail an exam and mitigatethis due to taking on too much extracurricular work, the university and student would face a sticky situation – who is at fault and what should the repercussions be? Consequently, the university refused to advertise such agreements between CCG and students potentially starving a lot of prospective students the opportunities to shine academically. As far as I know, the saga continues.
It remains almost impossible to attain a research job while reading medicine, and to some degree I understand why. But here are some conditions: assuming that students are intelligent, assuming they are relatively mature (whether in years or attitude), assuming they are willing to take responsibility for passing their exams alongside any extracurricular challenges, and given many need an extra job anyway, then I believe organisations like CCGs should be encouraged to work with medical schools to create a mutually beneficial network.
While much of the flashy research at universities is in education or in the lab, this is one great way to encourage the leadersand managers of the future.