My Research Experience
Dr Fiona McQuaid
ST7 Paediatric trainee South East Scotland
SCREDS Clinical lecturer, University of Edinburgh
What is your current job?
I’m a SCREDS clinical lecturer which means I spend 80% of my working time as an ST7 general paediatric trainee, and 20% doing academic activities. I work LTFT (80%) so this means I have around 18 research days every 6 months which I currently take as individual days.
How are you involved in research in your everyday work?
On my research days, I spend time developing the SPRINT network, having meetings and my developing my particular interest of exploring factors affecting the uptake of childhood vaccinations. During my clinical time, I keep an eye out for interesting cases which could be presented, audit/QI projects which could be developed into a research project and occasionally delivering teaching sessions to trainee and medical students on how to get involved in research. During the pandemic I was also involved with the clinical trials of COVID vaccination which involved consenting, carrying out clinical assessments of volunteers and completing trial paperwork.
Can you describe your clinical and academic career so far?
I studied in London and worked there until ST5. My first experience of research was as a medical student undertaking an intercalated BSc. I ran a mini-research project which involved interviewing clients at an addiction centre and this was what sparked my interest in the academic world.
I didn’t get an academic foundation post but between ST2 and 3 I took a year out (OOPE) to work as a clinical research fellow at the Oxford Vaccine Group, mainly working on clinical trials of paediatric meningococcal B vaccines. This was a fantastic experience and I learnt a great deal about clinical trial methodology, interpreting results, writing papers and developed a research project on attitudes towards antenatal vaccines for Group B strep
Shortly after, I moved to Scotland for family reasons and started a PhD (OOPR) funded by the Wellcome Trust under the ECAT scheme. This was quite a change as the PhD was completely lab based and I was looking at the how difference in red blood cell surface receptors affected a severe form of malaria. As part of this, I spent a month at Harvard university learning new genetic manipulation techniques. During my PhD I had my first child.
After an inter-deanery transfer to Scotland, I returned to clinical training and applied for a SCREDS lectureship. Since then, I’ve had another child and changed research direction back towards childhood vaccination. I have completed two projects with colleagues in Public Health Scotland analysing routinely collected data.
What is the best part of being involved in research?
I enjoy the being able to contribute to the ‘big picture’ of child health and I find it really interesting to explore new ideas and add to our knowledge and evidence base. I also appreciate the independence one has as an academic which can contrast with the experience of being a paediatric trainee. It adds lots of variety.
What challenges have you faced?
It can be very hard work and things don’t always go as planned (eg funding application rejected, experiments not working). Being an academic trainee has also extended my training by several years and that gets tougher as time goes by.
What advice would you given to paediatric trainees interested in research?
I believe all paediatricians have a duty to understand and (to a lesser or greater extent), be involved in research. Speak to lots of different people but remember that you can carve your own path. Don’t be afraid to explore different options and use opportunities such as OOPE and OOPR. It really helps to have some publications; these don’t have to be big, high impact papers. Look for case studies, extend your audit/QI project or offer to write up data.
How do you balance clinical/academic work and home life?
With difficulty! I have two young children and organising childcare alongside my husband is a constant work in progress. I do a lot of work in my own time which isn’t ideal.
What do you think are the biggest unmet research needs in paediatrics?
The joy of academic paediatrics is that there is so much potential for study. Vaccinations for RSV and Group A strep would be fantastic, how to prevent/manage mental health issues, optimal antibiotic courses for various infections, tests for differentiating viral and bacterial infections, how to increase the number of academic paediatricians… The list is endless!
What are your aims for the future?
I want to further develop the SPRINT (Scottish Researchers IN Training) network so paediatric trainees throughout Scotland can develop their own academic potential and we can build a strong research network for the future. I’d also like to develop my own research projects investigating the motivators and barriers towards childhood vaccination in Scotland.