Luke Daines - Clinical Academic Fellow

Luke talks about his research as part of the Research Engagement Hub.

I qualified as a GP in 2015 and soon after secured an academic post - one day a week in clinic (at the same practice I started training in!) and the rest doing research.

My research background

My Academic Clinical Fellowship was at the University of Edinburgh (0.8FTE). This was advertised to final year GPST's and available through the Scottish School of Primary Care. A clinical fellowship can be a great way to get familiar with research and undertake a small project.

During the fellowship, I helped the British Thoracic Society/ Scottish Intercollegiate Network (BTS/ SIGN) with the asthma guidelines. At the same time, NICE produced a different guideline and so I got interested in asthma diagnostics. This led to the development of a PhD fellowship proposal, which took another 14 months before being ready to submit to a funder.

The process of becoming an academic GP has not been the easiest and it can be challenging familiarising yourself with the different ways of working compared to applying for medical jobs - but it is worth the challenge. The first port of call would be to contact an academic GP working close to you or visiting your local university website.


PhD Fellowship

PhD fellowship provides an opportunity for further research training and is the first step in developing research independence and getting to grips with managing a grant (costings, ethics, governance, publishing, presenting, etc.).

When choosing a supervisor, it is important to make sure it is someone you get on with, who looks out for you, and who stretches you. It is possible to have more than 1 supervisor (I had 3 with different specialties; Professor Hilary Pinnock, Professor Steff Lewis (statistical expertise), and Professor Aziz Sheikh (visionary, experienced, and influential). All supervisors supported my PhD application.

The application process was challenging, long, and required a lot of thinking through. During the interview it is important, on top of discussing the proposal, to demonstrate:

  • A commitment to research
  • A desire to be a future clinical academic leader
  • The need for research skills
  • An infrastructure, supportive host institution, and supervisor team.

Demonstrate how the fellowship will enhance your research skills; providing a well thought out strategy is every bit as important as a compelling project proposal. Before applying, think through how the research will blend with clinical commitments and what works for you.

Funding a PhD fellowship can be challenging. Online searches, asking around, sending emails to funders and talking to other GPs who are undertaking a PhD are ways you can find opportunities.

In Scotland, Medical Research Scotland and Chief Scientist Office Scotland offer fellowships. There is a lot of paperwork involved, and the host institution has to sign off all paperwork. Therefore, this process cannot be left to the last minute. It took me three months to complete the paperwork, as part of a total 14 months of preparation!

Research advice

Top tips

  • Give it a try. If you are interested in academic general practice, have a go. It might begin with a small project in your spare time, but you won’t know unless you try.
  • Persevere. You will almost certainly experience failure/rejection at some point in your attempt to be a clinical academic. Everyone does. Being able to ride the disappointment and persevere is an essential attribute.
  • Be proactive. A research career won’t unfold neatly before you. Find out what you are eligible for, when and how to apply, and what attributes you need to develop to be successful.
  • Talk to others. As a doctor you will have built up lots of clinical experience. You must build up experience in research too. You can’t be expected to know all the answers when you start so go and talk to people, find out what they did and get advice. Websites can only provide so much information.
  • Find someone to support you. You may not find a supervisor straightaway, but your experience will be greatly helped by someone with research experience who supports you.

About the writer

Soon after qualifying as a GP, Luke Daines undertook a year-long Academic Clinical Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh. During this year, Luke prepared for a PhD, which he completed in 2020.

Luke holds the position of Clinical Academic Fellow under the Chief Scientist Office (Scotland), and is a salaried GP at Craiglockhart Medical Practice, Edinburgh.

To read more research case studies, visit the Research Engagement Hub.