Doing research part time alongside clinical work

Fact sheet
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British Geriatrics Society
Date Published:
26 April 2018
Last updated: 
26 April 2018

If you’re interested in doing research, but are reluctant to commit to a lengthy period out of clinical training in order to do research full time, doing research part time alongside your clinical job is a feasible option. This allows you to see if it really interests you, and is something you could commit to for a longer stretch. It also means you can get involved in a project without the drop in income that moving in to full time research usually entails.

I first got involved doing a research project part time because I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but there are plenty of opportunities if you look for them. The article “Research – finding a project” has some good advice about finding an interesting research project. It’s easy to fall in to the trap of thinking that “research” means going out of programme to do a PhD or MD, but there are loads of meaningful smaller projects that can fit in alongside clinical work, and get you involved in research without committing to a higher degree.

Finding the right project that is feasible in the time and resources you have available to you is the most important step. You will need to think carefully about the project as the types of projects you can realistically do part time are limited. Generally, you will be doing this in evenings and weekends, so part time research works well for studies where data collection involves reviewing patients’ notes or electronic databases, which can be accessed at any time. Laboratory research or anything that will involve regular presence during office hours is very unlikely to be feasible. However, one advantage of doing research part time is that you may be able to set up a pilot study, or collect preliminary data with the aim of going on later to an out of programme research experience to complete a larger study.

It’s important that you and your supervisor are realistic about what you can achieve. The limited amount of time that’s available is probably the biggest constraining factor. Don’t over-commit yourself; completing something small is much better for you and your patients than setting out on an ambitious project that drags on forever and never gets completed. Finding a fellow registrar who’s interested in the same thing, or a keen foundation doctor or medical student to help with data collection can be really helpful. Since you are not doing this for a higher degree, the number of people who collaborate to do the work does not matter.

You also need to think about how you are going to get the support you need such as access to notes or databases, software, etc. All large NHS trusts have a research office, and are usually very helpful. It’s worth contacting them early on, as they’ll be able to help you in a number of ways. Firstly, they’ll know who is active in research in the trust, and who may be able to help you with finding a project. Secondly, the trust is also likely to be the sponsor of your research, and the research office will be able to tell you how to go about organising this. They’ll also be able to help steer you through ethics applications, if needed, and may provide much of the support you’ll need.

If you’re unsure whether research is for you, you can commit to a small or limited project, to see if you enjoy it. A research project part time can be a pilot study for a larger piece of work later. A small project will give you valuable skills and experiences that you can apply later, both in research and as a clinician. Since you’re still doing clinical medicine, you won’t get rusty as many people find doing research full time. You do not need to go out of programme as getting approval to go out of programme is difficult in some areas.

It’s a big time commitment, on top of usual clinical work. You need to think carefully about how to get the support you will need. The types of suitable project are limited. You won’t get a higher degree (PhD/MD) from it although with planning, it could fit in to a dissertation for some Masters programmes.

I have been involved in two research projects now part time, one of which is just finishing up (submitted for publication), and another which has just got ethical approval to go ahead. For me, the significant time commitment on top of a full time clinical job is the biggest downside, but I have really enjoyed both projects despite this, and have learned skills such as leadership and time management that I can apply equally to my clinical job. I hope to be able to go out of programme to do full time research in the future. I would thoroughly recommend doing research part time to any trainee, and am happy to be contacted (rosiebelcher [at] gmail [dot] com) if you want to know more.

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