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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Academic psychiatry

Background to academic psychiatry

Academic psychiatrists can be from any psychiatric specialty and they spend some of their time in research and/or teaching. The jobs vary across institutions and across specialties. Research may be undertaken in a variety of areas such as biological (for example the genetics of psychiatric disorders), social (for example, the social factors that increase the risk for developing mental health problems) and psychological (for example research into different ways of thinking that may help or hinder how we deal with situations).

Clinical academics are in an excellent position to relate academic findings to clinical contexts. Increasingly there has been a greater emphasis on research than teaching given changes in how universities are funded. Changes in how doctors are trained has led to some uncertainty about how medicine, including psychiatry, will train future academics. If you think you might be interested in an academic career in psychiatry, it can be useful to look up the work of academic psychiatrists at several universities. This will give you a good idea of the range of opportunities.

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Personal perspective

Academic responsibilities include postgraduate and undergraduate teaching responsibilities in child mental health and other relevant areas, research in related areas and administrative responsibilities. I am currently course director for an innovative postgraduate certificate/diploma/masters in child mental health. In addition to the teaching commitment, there is also research into teaching methods and assessments as well as exploring how students conceptualise diversity and its impact on clinical practice. I also have other roles, such as admissions officer for the medical school, department equal opportunities representative, department research ethics officer and a member of the non-professorial selection committee at the University. I chair the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ scoping group on undergraduate education in psychiatry. I recently joined the editorial board of Diversity in Health and Social Care, having the lead responsibility for the new "Did you see?" feature. I regularly review grant applications and peer review articles for several journals usually on diversity, education or child mental health.

Best parts of being an academic

  • Never bored as there are always so many different things happening
  • Opportunity to influence practice and policy in your area
  • Opportunities to travel and spend time with clinical and academic colleagues in the US, India, Australia, South Africa and Nigeria

More difficult bits

  • Sometimes it feels like the job’s never done as there is always a paper waiting to be written
  • Teaching is not always valued
  • Seeking funding for projects which may be important but are not a government priority

I feel I have an absolutely great job. It is in a discipline that I feel brings together the science and art of medicine. I came into child psychiatry having decided against paeditarics. But now, even if I was not a child psychiatrist, I would want to remain in psychiatry. Having said that, why would I want to change what I do? I have a job that encourages me to continually challenge myself and continue to work to make things better for children and young people through direct clinical work, through teaching students (both medical students and others) and through research. All parts of the job need the other parts to make the most of them. For me, being a clinical academic is important as it is the clinical work that sets the stage for my teaching and research activities. However, the teaching and research provide the opportunity to challenge what I do clinically and enable me to be more reflective about my clinical work. If I had to describe my ideal job, this would be pretty much it, although maybe less political and management influence would make it even better!

Dr Nisha Dogra

Senior lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry, Leicester

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