When I got my fellowship there was a five minute period where I thought I was the bees knees. Professors and super senior staff within the trust I worked with started greeting me in corridors. SLT peers congratulated me on my achievements. I had just appeared in a TV documentary on brain injury and a couple of people at conferences recognised me from that. I wondered whether I was kind of hovering on the top rungs of my clinical career ladder- I had made it. I’d written a book, been on TV and gotten the precious funding I needed for my PhD.
Around this time I remember a good friend subtlety suggesting that I might feel very different once I’d started uni- that it might be challenging being at the bottom of the pile. Shortly after I started another SLT PhD colleague described the dawning realisation that the PhD is actually the very bottom of the ladder – of realising that she knew nothing really.
I can’t say I felt quite like that- I actually felt quite valued. I feel that people in my department genuinely respect my clinical experience. I also realised that I had jumped from one ladder (my clinical SLT ladder) to another (the academic ladder) and that although they stand close to one another they don’t necessarily intertwine. I realised that in general PhD students are at the beginning of their academic careers. That I knew little of academia, of research methods and statistics and that it was only fair that I stood on this bottom rung. I also realised that for me it wasn’t really about the classic career ladder. The NIHR understands this conundrum and is endeavouring to find another route for clinical academics, firstly by paying them a salary to do research that has impact. They are supporting clinicians to explore a research idea that truly belongs to them and advocating that this be linked to their clinical work. But NIHR funding is not that easy to get.
Having been to a number of talks on career pathways recently I have been pondering where I fit. The last talk I went to suggested the importance of going to a different academic organisation for a post-doc position, and further post-docs beyond that. This assumes one has the means to move around. And how does one maintain the clinical skills and link in all this? Does having a clinical role part time along side an academic role really work? With one foot on both ladders? I would like to think it does. I know some clinical academics who have made this work. Can I make this work for me? Perhaps it is the last question that is the most important – no matter what ladder I am on and where – can I make this work for me?