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Formal Academic Pathways

Fiona Mcquaid

Many clinical academics have followed a varied, interesting and indirect course throughout their career (see case studies). However, more formal, linear pathways into clinical academia do exist.  The new Progress+ paediatric training curriculum is due to being in 2023 and the RCPCH has produced the following diagram to illustrate the various academic pathways which can be taken, though opportunities for formal academic training in paediatrics vary between the 4 nations of the UK:

Source: RCPCH

The RCPCH document “Training in Research for the Benefit of Children” discusses integrated academic training in more detail, but much of it is specific to England only. Below, we discuss the opportunities available in Scotland.

Formal academic pathways for paediatric trainees in Scotland


In Scotland, the National Institute for Health and care research (NIHR) academic clinical fellow (ACF) posts at level 1 are not available and post PhD academic clinical lectureships (ACL) are funded in a different way and may have different percentage academic time. There are still many opportunities to get involved in research as a junior trainee which can led to a PhD and a clinical academic post in the post-doctoral period.


  • Gain Experience:  In order to gain pre-doctoral research experience, trainees in Scotland could consider a research/teaching orientated FY3 year or out of programme experience as a clinical research fellow. Within clinical work, there are opportunities to participate in research studies, publish case-reports, submit posters and conduct systematic reviews.

  • Make connections: Many senior academics are very happy to be contacted by enthusiastic trainees keen to help with projects and gain experience. Find out who the senior academic trainees and consultants are (e.g. from the university website or speak with those in your department) and ask if you can meet for a coffee to discuss research and whether you could contribute to any projects. Link up with others in your region or nationally through the SPRINT network.

  • Develop your ideas: What are you interested in? What questions do you think need answered? Try to write a single page of your ideas and how you could go about investigating it. This is a useful exercise to help consolidate your plans and can be sent to others for feedback. It might even form the basis of your PhD proposal

Getting a PhD

  • To apply for a PhD you need a project, a supervisor, a place to do your work and funding. You can find/develop these independently, but there are also various “Clinical Academic Track” schemes in Scotland which provide a variety of support and mentorship pre, during and post PhD, some of which are open to all trainees regardless of their home deanery.


The Edinburgh Clinical Academic Track (ECAT)

  • Trainees are appointed through a competitive process, open to the whole of the UK

  • Funding is available for a period of combined clinical and academic time to identify a supervisor and project before starting a 3 year PhD (time varies depending on the fellowship)

  • Depending on the fellowship, the trainee then continues as a clinical lecturer with 20% of their clinical time allocated for research

The Aberdeen Clinical Academic Track (ACAT)

The Dundee Clinical Academic Track (DCAT)

The Glasgow Academic Training Environment (GATE)

Other PhD opportunities

  • There are many other different avenues to gain funding for a PhD including charities, the Chief Science Officer and schemes from funders such as the Wellcome Trust.

  • Chief Scientist Officer

  • British Heart Foundation/Cancer Research UK

  • The RCPCH website has a list of other funders

Post-doctoral opportunities

  • For Scottish trainee who have completed a PhD, dedicated research time as a clinical lecturer can be obtained by applying to the Scottish clinical research excellence development scheme (SCREDS) or for a Chief Scientist Office fellowship. These schemes allow to trainee to spend a specific proportion of their time (usually 20% for SCREDS and 50% for CSO) during academic work.

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