Equipping doctoral research students at King's College London to excel

Category: Clinicians (Page 1 of 2)

Health Professional Researcher Profile: Dr Graham Blackman

Dr Graham Blackman

Dr Graham Blackman, PhD Student at King’s College London

In this blog post we introduce you to one of our Health Professional Researchers (HPRs) at King’s, Dr Graham Blackman:

Graham, could you give us a brief summary of your route into a PhD, including previous research experience, and how this was funded?

I originally studied psychology at University before deciding to complete a graduate entry medicine degree. Prior to studying medicine, I had a couple of years of research experience under my belt which was really helpful in getting a flavour of what it was all about. Prior to taking time out of clinical training to complete a PhD, I was an academic clinical fellow (ACF) on the Maudsley Training Programme which provided 25% protected research time. I’ve long considered a career in research, so taking time out of clinical training when the opportunity arose felt natural. 

What are your long-term ambitions for your clinical academic career? 

After completing my PhD, I will be returning to clinical practice to complete my training and gain my Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT). I hope to continue having some protected research time during the rest of my clinical training to further several clinical studies that I’m involved in which look at improving clinical care in patients suffering with psychosis. Ultimately, my long-term ambition is to be able to balance a career as a clinician and academic. 

What tips would you give to a clinician newly embarking on an out-of-programme research project e.g. a PhD or MD(Res)? 

My main advice would be to gain research experience as early as possible. The time frame to conceive, plan, execute and publish a study is quite considerable and therefore careful planning is necessary. The other piece of advice I would give a budding clinical academic would be to seek out opportunities to work alongside a research team with a track record of securing grantand publishing in high impact journals 

What support has been most helpful to you in terms of navigating your clinical academic career to date? 

In terms of formal support, being a clinical academic within the Maudsley and IoPPN has been hugely beneficial in providing the infrastructure, training, and support to navigate a rewarding, yet challenging career path. For example, through the ACF programme I was enrolled in a postgraduate certificate in clinical research, had protected research time, and dedicated training days. Informal support has also been critical – particularly in the form of advice and mentoring from other trainees, as well as more senior colleagues. 

 What is the most rewarding thing about being a clinical academic researcher? 

This is entirely personal, but in my case it’s the opportunity to continue to learn and challenge myself – there are so many facets to research, from generating research ideas, to managing a project through to completion, to analysing the data and disseminating the results. Furthermore, the chancof making a contribution towards improving care in patients suffering a serious mental disorder is a huge privilegeFinally, my experience in clinical research has really helped improve me as a psychiatrist by gaining a much deeper understanding of the disorders I see on the wards and in clinic. 

Health Professional Researcher Profile: Ms Tootie Bueser

Ms Tootie (Teofila) Bueser

Ms Tootie (Teofila) Bueser, HEE/NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow and PhD Student at King’s College London

In this blog post we introduce you to one of our Health Professional Researchers (HPRs) at King’s, Tootie (Teofila) Bueser:

Tootie, could you give us a brief summary of your route into a PhD, including previous research experience, and how this was funded?

I have always wanted to pursue a research career even as nursing undergraduate. As a nurse who trained in a different country (the Philippines), I did not find a supportive environment for this when I started working in the UK. It wasn’t until I was mentored five years down the line by a senior nurse and championed by a cardiology consultant to pursue an MSc that the pathway to a clinical academic career became a possibility for me. I was then nurtured and supported in the cardiovascular and genetics departments at King’s College Hospital and Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospital which gave me a taster for conducting primary research. I was also becoming more advanced in my clinical practice as a cardiac genetics nurse and identifying gaps in care where evidence was sparse and where I felt I could make a difference. With the guidance of my academic supervisors at KCL, I was able to develop a successful application for the NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship.  

 What are your long-term ambitions for your clinical academic career? 

I have grand plans to set the standard for cardiac genetic nursing practice, have a research group of my own and forge international research collaborations focused on improving the care of patients and families affected by inherited cardiac conditions  maybe one day! I also want to inspire more nurses to pursue the clinical academic career pathway and be a good mentor for them. 

 What tips would you give to a clinician newly embarking on an out-of-programme research project, such as a PhD or MD(Res)? 

I think it is important to have a good balance of research and clinical time. As nurses, we are already qualified so it is key to focus on honing research skills during the PhD but we also need to keep in mind what we need to maintain, or if needed increase, our clinical skills and knowledge. Do not lose touch with your clinical team and set up a patient and public group to guide your research so you are always aware of what is important to patients. Be out there, meet a range of people from different research backgrounds who will not only enhance your academic experience but perhaps turn out to be great collaborators on future projects. On a practical note, get your ethics application in early!  

 What support has been most helpful to you in terms of navigating your clinical academic career to date? 

My academic supervisors have been great at supporting me through my PhD so choose well! It is also crucial that you get support from your clinical team/management as often as nurses, you must work with them to define your role post-PhD and how to make best use of your new skills. Also, find mentors outside your institution/profession as often they can be helpful in achieving your short-term goals and give you a broader view and opportunities for your clinical academic career 

Finally, I don’t think I could have survived this far without the support of my PhD peer group and we have helped each other navigate forms and regulations, I always have someone to lean on through all sorts of ups and downs and we cheer each other on with our successes. Doing a PhD can be quite isolating so having a peer group, alongside quality time with family and friends, counteracts this. 

 What is the most rewarding thing about being a Health Professional Researcher? 

I think being a clinical academic gives you a mindset where you are always actively looking for ways to improve patient care and I think as a nurse, I have a unique insight on how patients experience care and cope with their condition. I find it really rewarding to be able to work collaboratively with patients to design and conduct research that is pertinent to them and to be able to impact on their care more widely that goes beyond an individual consultation.  

Health Professional Researcher Profile: Professor Bijan Modarai

Professor Bijan Modarai is the King’s Chair in Vascular Surgery and a British Heart Foundation (BHF) Senior Clinical Research Fellow. He completed his Basic Surgical Training in London before being awarded a BHF Clinical PhD Studentship in 2002. He graduated with a PhD in Biochemistry in 2006 and completed his Higher Surgical Training as an NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer at King’s and as an Endovascular Fellow at The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. He was appointed as a Senior Lecturer in Vascular Surgery at King’s and Honorary Consultant Vascular Surgeon at GSTT in 2012, having secured a BHF Intermediate Clinical Research Fellowship. He was awarded a Hunterian Professorship by The Royal College of Surgeons of England in 2017.

He is a Council member of the British Society for Endovascular Therapy, examines for the Fellowship of European Board of Vascular Surgery and co-leads the GSTT/King’s Biomedical Research Centre School of Translational & Experimental Medicine.

Bijan is the King’s medical lead for INSPIRE, an initiative from the Academy of Medical Sciences that seeks to engage medical, dental, and veterinary undergraduates with research.

Bijan will be joining a panel to discuss the challenges of navigating dual careers as a health professional researcher at our ‘Managing Dual Careers series of webinars in April 2021. Book your place via Skills Forge. 


We chatted to Bijan about his career as a clinical academic, and in particular his views on enhancing the diversity of the pipeline of future clinical academic leaders.

Bijan, tell us about a typical day (or week) in the life of a clinical academic leader in vascular surgery? 

The great thing about being a clinical academic is that no day or week is the same! My role is fully funded by the British Heart Foundation, allowing dedicated time for research and the opportunity to maintain a flexible timetable depending on what the clinical demands are. Clinically, my time involves seeing patients, participating in MDTs (multidisciplinary team meetings), operating, and on call sessions. 

Research-wise, I spend my time supervising PhD students, in lab meetings, liaising with national and international collaborators, and forging new collaborations to get new research off the ground. My research team spans basic and translational science, from cell biology in the lab to data-driven clinical research. It’s very much a bedside, to bench, to bedside model. I also spend time reviewing papers, writing grants, and (less so now in the pandemic) attending meetings to present and discuss the research with international colleagues. 

One thing that I’d say has helped me in navigating the dual career as a clinician and researcher is focussing my clinical practice to a specific, specialised area. It’s really important not be a jack of all trades clinically as you’ll have no time for research.  

Looking back to the early stages of your career, what do you think were the biggest challenges in forging your career as both a clinician and a researcher? What tips did you find helped you overcome these? 

Many clinicians are concerned that there’s a perception that if you take time out for a PhD, then you de-skill clinically. Perhaps it’s getting better these days, but when I started it was relatively unusual for an individual in a craft speciality such as mine to take three years out for research towards a PhD. It’s important that Trusts and academia work together to improve this, and that clinical training committees have appropriate expectations for clinicians who are also doing research.  

However, a key piece of advice I’d give to clinicians is that in order to have kudos with your clinical colleagues, it’s important to strive hard to ensure you achieve the same, if not better, clinical competencies than your clinical colleagues not doing research. This is an important mindset to have and is achievable with the right prioritisation strategies. I’d encourage any clinician undertaking time out of programme for a research degree to try and carve out flexible time e.g. an afternoon a week, to maintain clinical skills. 

What got you interested in research? 

In truth, I didn’t set out knowing I’d be a clinical academic. I did an intercalated BSc in medical school, that gave me a taste of research. What really led me into this path was the mentorship and opportunities I was exposed to early on in my early clinical jobs.  I had some excellent mentors who encouraged me, and with them I wrote a proposal for a PhD, funded by the BHF. I wasn’t sure whether doing research was the right thing to do, and at that stage there was no defined career path, but then the NIHR IAT programme was created and I was one of the first NIHR-funded surgical ACLs.  

The period after a PhD can be particularly difficult to navigate as a clinician. How should clinical PhD students find opportunity to stay engaged in research after their degree? 

This is still a huge issue that we need to tackle, namely the lack of opportunities post-PhD to continue driving up research outputs in order to be competitive for clinician scientist or intermediate fellow funding. The way I achieved it was through supervising a PhD student whilst I was an ACL, thereby enhancing the research outputs to be competitive for the BHF intermediate fellowship. 

Many clinicians don’t realise that there’s no one size fits all, in the quest to be a clinical academic. In many ways, everyone must forge their own bespoke pathway at every stage.  Key to this is the relationships you cultivate, both within the Trust (e.g. your Programme Director) and academic colleagues. You need to bring people on board to help you navigate the pathway. Skills in negotiation, interpersonal skills, all are key and should not be underestimated.  

It can be more difficult for those in minority groups to imagine themselves achieving this when there are fewer senior role models who look like them. While things are improving, women and BAME communities are still underrepresented in cardiovascular surgery and in senior clinical academic research. Again, seeking mentorship is key. There are many ways to find mentors outside your immediate clinical or academic environment. For example, social media helps you see what people are interested in and connect with them. Attend talks and events, and crucially, don’t be shy – talk to people afterwards. I remember an inspirational talk I attended from a young Asian plastic surgeon which left a long-lasting impression – this was 25 or 30 years ago. If someone inspires you, contact them, don’t wait, or assume they won’t have the time to respond. It’s flattering to be contacted no matter what level you’re at. 

However, it’s certainly not just down to the individual. It’s the responsibility of senior people to seek talent and provide opportunities based on merit, to everyone. We must always be conscious of the balance of opportunities we give people. More senior academics must also highlight examples of successes from those they mentor, and from underrepresented groups in particular. I’d also recommend participating unconscious bias training, to help you think about biases you’re not even aware you have. 

What other advice do you give early stage clinical academic colleagues? 

You can’t do everything! It’s so important to have focus, and to decide what the priorities are in conjunction with good advice from colleagues. If you’re good, you’ll be approached to do 101 different things, and part of your success depends on filtering those, knowing where your talents are, and where your time is best spent. 

You can’t underestimate the importance of having the skills to work in a team, and interpersonal skills to find mutually beneficial opportunities that help you move forward. Always be grateful to those who do help you. Find ways to be part of a supportive, social, non-hierarchical cohort of clinicians and scientists. Don’t be arrogant, know at the early stage that you’re starting from scratch as a researcher, have humility and be the kind of person that others want to see succeed. 




Health Professional Researcher Profile: Dr Sheila McSweeney

Dr Sheila McSweeney

Dr Sheila McSweeney, recent awardee of an NIHR MRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship

Health Professional Researchers (HPRs) at King’s include medical doctors, dentists, nurses, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and members of the 14 allied health professions as outlined on this NHS England webpage, who are also currently engaged in a period of research training.

HPRs are also sometimes known as Clinical Academic Researchers, and this and related terms can refer to pre-doctoral, doctoral, and post-doctoral researchers on a clinical academic pathway at King’s.

In this blog post we introduce you to one of our Health Professional Researchers at King’s, Dr Sheila McSweeney:

Sheila, could you give us a summary of your route into a PhD, including your previous research experience, and how this was funded?

I undertook medical training in my home city in Ireland and was lucky to have opportunities to gain some basic research experience by undertaking laboratory-based projects at home and abroad.

I also took a year out of training to do an intercalated degree in immunology at King’s College London, which was not particularly common at that time.

These experiences gave me insights into clinical and academic medicine in different countries, and inspired me to remain active in both fields throughout my training.

Following graduation, I came to the UK and undertook training in internal medicine and dermatology. I then began to consider opportunities to further develop my research skills and ambitions.

I am very grateful to have received support from a BRC Clinical Fellowship, as this allowed me to take time out from clinical training and provided me with protected research time for 12 months to develop my research proposal and successfully apply for funding.

What are your long-term ambitions for your clinical academic career?

I hope to use my PhD to explore the pathogenesis of solar urticaria and provide insights that benefit patient care, as the currently available treatments are not particularly effective.

Thereafter, I will complete my clinical training and hope to build a post-doctoral research career exploring aspects of cutaneous allergy, including solar urticaria, other forms of physical urticaria, and contact allergy.

Ultimately, I aspire to work as both a clinician and an academic with my time divided between both aspects of medicine.

What tips would you give to a Health Professional who is starting an out-of-programme research project, such as a PhD or MD(Res)?

Perhaps I am being somewhat glib in saying this, but I think being organized is critical as you are master of your own time, while if I were to pick a second piece of advice, I would suggest that being resilient—even to the point of stubbornness—is so important. Everyone will inevitably experience setbacks and it is one’s response and persistence in the face of adversity that is most important.

What support has been most helpful to you in terms of navigating your clinical academic career to date?

Speaking to people who have blazed the trail before you: their experiences are invaluable, and you realise that research is accessible to all and that people will follow varied pathways into and through research.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a Health Professional Researcher?

I think the complementarity of clinical practice and academic research is the most rewarding aspect of being a Health Professional Researcher. Clinical practice inevitably raises unanswered questions, while academia provides you with the skills and tools to answer those questions.

Health Professional Researcher Profile: Captain Lawen Karim MRCS & GSTT BRC Fellow

Mr Lawen Karim MRCS

Mr Lawen Karim MRCS, BRC Fellow and PhD Student at King’s College London

Health Professional Researchers (HPRs) at King’s include medical doctors, dentists, nurses, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and members of the 14 allied health professions as outlined on this NHS England webpage, who are also currently engaged in a period of research training.

HPRs are also sometimes known as Clinical Academic Researchers, and this and related terms can refer to pre-doctoral, doctoral, and post-doctoral researchers on a clinical academic pathway at King’s.

In this blog post we introduce you to one of our Health Professional Researchers at King’s, Captain Lawen Karim MRCS:

Lawen, can you tell us about your research interests?

I am a specialist registrar in vascular surgery and in 2019 I decided to invest time out of clinical training to undertake a PhD, in order to develop and enhance my expertise in research, and ultimately contribute as a clinical scientist.

My research focuses on improving outcomes for patients with Critical Limb Ischaemia (CLI), the most severe manifestation of peripheral arterial disease.

We aim to develop a Blood Oxygen Level Dependent (BOLD) Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technique; this is a novel objective tool which will help to identify patients who have had incomplete or inadequate peripheral arterial revascularisation, allowing early re-intervention to help achieve limb salvage.

What was your route into doing a doctorate at King’s College London?

My route into academic surgery was unconventional, as I had very little research experience prior to commencing my PhD.

I graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) in 2015 where I was commissioned to the rank of a Captain in the British Army.

After completing and gaining relevant foundation and core surgical competencies in the traditional programme, I secured competitive London vascular surgery national training in 2017.

What are your long-term ambitions for your Clinical Academic Career?

After completing my PhD and having had papers published in high impact journals, I intend to return to surgical training to gain the relevant competencies to enable an academic consultant vascular surgeon with a strong passion in researching lower limb cutting edge modalities.

What has helped you progress in your Clinical Academic Career so far?

The academic department of vascular surgery at King’s has an international reputation in research and has had papers published in many high impact journals.

Established academic surgeons in my host department at King’s have provided ongoing support, guidance and supervision to develop my research.

We have regular departmental meetings in which we set monthly goals to achieve. In this time, I have developed important research skills including: paper critiquing; data analysis; paper writing; and verbal presentations.

What advice would you give to other Clinicians considering academic research?

My advice to prospective Clinicians pursuing research is to select the right project and department for you.

My non-academic background has in no way hindered my progress through my PhD and I believe it is the reason I have found it so exciting and interesting.

The success of any research is dependent on the ability to develop relationships with collaborators and scientific colleagues.

What is the most rewarding part of being a Clinical Academic Researcher?

I highly recommend that all surgical clinicians undertake a period of research as it gives you a different perspective to the patient care pathway.

It is rewarding to be involved in cutting edge surgery which will contribute to the vascular community and improve the care we provide to our patients in the future.

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