The Paediatrics & Child Health Research Committee has created a pathways guide for you to refer to as you progress through your career and wonder if research is for you.
Many clinicians decide to conduct research during their careers, either as their primary focus or in a supporting role. However, understanding the academic pathway is not always easy.
Types of researchers
There are many different 'types' of clinician researchers, including those who want to lead research projects and those who want to only contribute to projects.
A lead researcher typically:
- has a research higher degree, such as a PhD or MPhil
- devotes at least 0.4 EFT to research
- wants to lead research including submitting grants, writing papers, and growing capacity in the next generation of researchers through supervision and mentoring
- has funded research time, protected from clinical or other duties
- are prepared to do some work out of hours (weekends, nights) to get their research done
A contributing researcher:
- may or may not have a higher degree, such as a PhD, MPhil or Masters
- contributes < 0.4 EFT to projects
- has no or little funded research time
- wants to contribute their expertise but not run projects
Physicians can decide to complete a higher degree at any stage of their career lifecycle, which sets you on the academic pathway. Each university has specific requirements for admission into a higher degree, such as PhD, MPhil or Masters. The time commitment is generally:
- Master’s degree or MPhil – 2 years full time or can be done part-time over a longer period.
- PhD takes 3-4 years full time or can be done part-time, although this may lessen your chances of getting a stipend (salary).
Salary funding or stipends
Salary funding or stipends are available for clinicians undertaking a PhD or MPhil. They aren’t as large as a clinical salary but are tax free (as you are a student) and come with clinical loading for doctors.
Stipends are available through annual competitive processes through:
- the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (Australia)
- the Health Research Council of New Zealand
- the RACP Foundation
- the university in which you are enrolled
- your local medical research institute or disease specific funding bodies
Whilst you are undertaking your higher degree, you’re able to continue with part-time clinical work.
You can find you require further funding for your higher degree project (in addition to your stipend) or to commence a new project following the completion of your higher degree.
Explore your local funding sources from the local hospital, hospital foundation or an affiliated research institute or university in the first instance. Sometimes there are designated grant funds available for junior staff, emerging researchers or for specific topics or for research related travel. Some locations will have a designated office or contact person to assist with grants and grant finding.
Accessing funding through research institutes or universities may require admission as an honorary staff member.
National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC)
Australian Research Council
For regional, state or territory-based funding bodies, condition specific bodies like The Heart Foundation or Asthma Foundation, and not-for-profit organisations.
Australian Paediatric Research Network (APRN)
Iin their “How to Conduct Research” Toolkit, the APRN lists further funding sources as well as tips on how to budget and seek funding.
Health Research Council (HRC)
Lotteries Health Research
The Auckland Medical Research Fund
Post-higher degree salary funding
After you finish your higher degree, you enter your ‘early career research fellow’ stage – typically up to three years from the date of completion of your higher degree.
Your ‘mid-career research fellow’ stage is typically between 3-12 years post award of your higher degree.
There are different salary options you can apply for based on the stage of your career. In Australia, there are two main sources of salary funding post higher degree: NHMRC and the Australian Research Council (ARC). The NHMRC focuses on medical research and the ARC on other areas which may be related, for example education, but are not directly medical.
In New Zealand, there are several sources including the HRC, university post-doctoral awards and local research office options.
The RACP Foundation also offers several early and mid-career scholarships to fellows.
Getting a research salary funded is a competitive process and depends on your track record in areas such as number and quality of publications, grants received, and number of students supervised and/or mentored.
Setting up and protecting my research
- Establish a defined area of expertise
- Develop collaborators and connections
- Develop areas of confidence
- Carefully consider publication strategies and what to present as abstract before publication, as in how much you want to say publicly before publication
- Consider application for patent for major breakthroughs and talk with research experts or intellectual property experts as to what the processes are
A good mentor to guide and advise on your strategic research directions can also be invaluable. Many universities, research institutes and hospitals run formal mentorship programs that are well run and provide support for early career researchers.
If you find they don’t exist at your institute or hospital, advocate for a program to be established.
You may want to contribute to research as a clinician by helping to recruit patients, completing audits and surveys, and even taking part in the odd trial, for example by delivering an intervention yourself. In Australia, there are two complimentary research organisations that can allow you to do this.
Australian Paediatric Research Network
The Australian Paediatric Research Network (APRN) is a practice-based research network of over 500 Australian paediatricians who are keen to contribute to new research that is relevant to both public and private practice. It builds research capacity by involving more clinicians in research activities and enhancing recruitment for community-based research projects. The APRN runs trials like treating sleep problems in children with ADHD, shifting allergy care from the hospital to the community, surveys, practice audits and Delphi surveys of member’s research priorities. Membership is free.
Australia Paediatric Surveillance Unit
The Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit (APSU) facilitates national, prospective, active surveillance of rare childhood diseases, rare complications of common diseases or adverse effects of treatment. Each month, over 1500 paediatric Fellows receive an email card listing up to 18 selected rare diseases currently under study and are asked to indicate whether they have seen a newly diagnosed case in the last month. Clinicians who report cases are asked to complete an online questionnaire, which includes de-identified epidemiological and clinical data. Diseases are chosen for their public health significance and impact on health resources.
The APSU has studied 68 rare infectious, vaccine preventable, mental health, congenital and genetic conditions, as well as injuries in childhood. For many of these conditions, the APSU is the only source of national data. In 2018, the APSU celebrates 25 years of surveillance. It has been used by over 300 individual researchers, and any paediatric Fellow or trainee can propose a study. Proposals for new surveillance studies facilitated by the APSU are always welcome and are assessed by a scientific review panel.
The APSU offers opportunities for RACP trainee projects. All study protocols, publications and information for parents are available on the APSU website.
New Zealand Paediatric Surveillance Unit
The New Zealand Paediatric Surveillance Unit (NZPSU) facilitates national surveillance to improve the knowledge of several uncommon high-impact childhood conditions in New Zealand.
For junior staff in the acute care setting, there can be an opportunity to participate in the Paediatric Research in Emergency Department International Collaborative (PREDICT) research network studies. PREDICT has a track record of combining the contribution of trainees from several centres to allow the conduct of larger, multi-centre studies with resulting papers led by individual trainees from the collaboration.
Membership of PREDICT is free and open to trainees.
Remember, other opportunities to take part in research may be possible through your hospital or medical research institute.