Dipesh Gopal - NIHR In-Practice Fellow
Publication date: 22 April 2022
12 April 2022
Dipesh talks about his research experience as part of the Research Engagement Hub.
I currently work as a salaried GP in North London and am a researcher in cancer care at Queen Mary University of London. I am involved with the Late Effects group at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI), where we look into ways of decreasing the burden of heart disease. Heart disease is one of the leading non-cancer causes of death in people who have had cancer and/or cancer treatment.
I am also a committee member of the Primary Academic Collaborative (PACT) – an organisation supporting people with little to no research experience to answer important research questions relevant to primary care.
I predominantly find research opportunities through networking. This is a difficult skill to develop, but I do it through conferences, academic meetings and writing my own publications. My time between research and clinical work is currently split 50:50. Though it can be challenging at times, I find my research work massively fulfilling.
It's hard to identify academic GPs because they are less likely to be visible. Primary care academics work in buildings next medical schools, but with distant clinical placements. Secondary care academics, however, often have clinical placements near the medical school. Therefore, they are more visible.
Primary care also makes up a tiny part of medical school teaching, whilst secondary care makes up the majority. This makes it harder to get the opportunity to interact with primary care academics. Thus, it is not surprising that academic careers in primary care are often unknown to many doctors on qualification.
I first became interested in research after my intercalated degree as a medical student. I took the initiative to organise research, as well as improve my writing skills. I asked a Senior Research GP, Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, for help about getting involved in a career in academia. I contacted one of the academic clinical fellows, Simon Glew, and one of the professors at the time, Prof Helen Smith, about what a career in GP and research entailed.
I focused on securing an academic clinical fellowship programme. I also started writing letters to journals and opinion pieces.
- 2011: became interested in a career in academia after intercalation (year4/5). (Got some advice/ mentorship on applications for Academic Foundation Programmes from academic clinical fellows, professors.)
- 2013: applied to academic foundation programmes (x2) - unsuccessful
- 2013-14: worked on own research project with University of Cambridge during foundation years. (Mentorship and guidance on shaping a research project and then with the application from academic clinical fellows and lecturers)
- 2014: research project presented at international conference before specialty applications
- 2015-19: secured London academic GP training programme place at Queen Mary University of London
- 2020: re-applied for pre-PhD fellowship (In-Practice) - successful at second attempt. (My application was critically appraised by successful applicants of the fellowship)
I had heard about the opportunity for academic training through asking at my local primary care research department. I undertook my academic GP training programme through support from lecturers and current academics. The application process involved a written application, followed by an interview. There were lots of predictable white space questions as they are similar from year to year.
I would certainly consider doing a PhD to become an independent researcher, who could improve the world. I am most interested in cancer care and health inequalities. To find information on funding and research opportunities, I would advise others to find their local primary care research department – every university with a medical school has one. Websites such as NIHR, NIHR Research Design Service, Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council are also helpful.
Academic careers are rarely linear, and the ride can be bumpy. Securing grant and fellowship applications can be difficult, but the lessons you learn from unsuccessful projects are important not only in your career, but in life as well. The support of the people around me allowed to bounce back after challenges.
About the writer
Dipesh Gopal is an NIHR In-Practice Fellow in Primary Care at the Wolfson Institute of Population Health. Here, Dipesh researches cancer care and health inequalities. Dipesh Gopal first became interested in a career in academia after his intercalated degree as a medical student. He took the initiative to organise research, as well as improve his writing skills.
To read more research case studies, visit the Research Engagement Hub.