Skip to main content

The BHP Starter Fellowship – Amy’s story

Dr Amy Coulden is a Specialist Registrar in Endocrinology and Diabetes, currently at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, and a Clinical Research Fellow within the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research. She’s a recent alumna of the BHP Starter Fellowship, having completed it between 2021 and 2022, and is now taking time out of clinical training to undertake a Metchley Park Clinical research fellowship investigating the role of ganglioside GM3 in acromegaly – a rare endocrinological disorder characterised by a growth hormone secreting tumour in the pituitary.

What attracted you to apply for the fellowship?

I have also been interested in research, ever since I did an intercalated BSc during my medical degree which involved four months of experience in the laboratory that I thoroughly enjoyed. I have also enjoyed clinical research and being involved in projects that can help instigate change, such as audits I did in my early training after qualifying. I was not aware of the fellowship before it was alerted to me by one of my consultants who thought I would be a good fit.

I knew that I was interested in doing a PhD or MD at some point during my registrar training (in Diabetes and Endocrinology), but I was unsure what I would want to study or whether or not it would be a large undertaking given that my research background was pretty limited. I thought a one-year fellowship would be a perfect way to experience research life for a year, while not taking a large amount of time out of clinical training.

The project that I have is excellent with a fantastic opportunity to work with some world renowned researchers, which definitely attracted me to doing the fellowship.

What were the benefits of fellowship?

It’s allowed me a ‘taster’ what both clinical and basic science research is, as well as giving me a qualification of an MSc at the end. It has reassured me that the research world and career is definitely for me and I am currently applying for funding to convert my MSc into a PhD!

I have learnt so much! Firstly, skills in the lab, from tissue culture, to using ELISA and qPCR. I have learnt skills in writing- both for publication but also for grants/ fellowship application and interview skills- all of which have been invaluable.

I have learnt how to organise my time, especially as research often does not go to plan. Balancing different projects and learning how to use the downtime when there is not much going on in the lab has been a challenge but has improved my organisational skills.

Were there any challenges during the fellowship?

My challenges are probably very common! Firstly, research takes time – often much longer than you expect and this should be factored in when planning. There are often delays, for example many of my reagents that I need for experiments have taken far longer to arrive than anticipated which delays the project. Sometimes the results you get aren’t what you are expecting, and this often means changes to your protocols and additional repeats. And sometimes things go wrong!

While these have been frustrating, they have taught me so much about planning and execution of research as well as troubleshooting.

How much clinical work did you do while undertaking your fellowship?

I have not done too much clinical work, mostly because the focus of this year was to be a pure research year. I have attended a couple of clinics a month but also regular MDTs and endocrinology meetings as well as the regular teaching training days. I have opted to do ad hoc locum shifts in General Internal Medicine every few months to ensure I don’t deskill.

Did the fellowship help with your clinical practice?

I have done many additional projects this year outside my main fellowship project such as case reports, poster presentations and reviews. This has allowed me to research and review certain clinical conditions and as a result I’ve improved my knowledge around these. The clinical work that I have done during the fellowship (such as fortnightly pituitary MDTs and clinics) have helped me in clinical practice.

Do you feel that the fellowship has helped you with your career development and aspirations?

Absolutely! I knew that I wanted to explore research but I was nervous about taking a large amount of time out of training of do a PhD or MD if it wasn’t suited to me. This fellowship has confirmed my love of research and how I want my future career to look. I am now starting an academic clinical lecturer post in August and applying for PhD fellowship this Autumn- neither of which would have been possible without this fellowship.

What would your advice be to anyone thinking of applying for a BHP fellowship?

If you are interested in research, but don’t have much experience or you are unsure if you want to embark on a longer degree but would like a ‘taster’ of research, this is for you!

The BHP Starter Fellowship

Applications for the 2022-23 Fellowship are now open – visit our Fellowship page for application details and forms.

Meet the alumni