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Research during radiology training

Undertaking research during radiology training is an important topic so we have dediated this page to helping trainees get started. There's lots to cover and so much variation in opportunities both throught the UK and within hospitals so we hope this helps you to navigate this potential minefield!

Why get into radiology research?

Very simply, radiology research is needed... and urgently needed

The quantity of imaging is increasing year on year, particularly more complex, expensive imaging, for example CT or MRI. With this increased use, many questions are raised such as how should we use these imaging modalities in our clinical practice? What difference do they make to our patient’s outcomes? Do they benefit our patients? Do they have any downsides?

Who is researching this? Who is comparing new and existing techniques? A lot of work is needed to help us answer these fundamental questions. It often takes a long period of time to answer what may at first seem to be a simple question. Usually one question will lead to another, then another and before you know if you soon realise just how little we know about a topic.

Radiology as a specialty is well placed for research as we are lucky to have access to very large datasets given the volume of imaging we acquire. Imaging is also utilised in a large number of studies outside of our immediate specialty, for example most cancer trials assessing disease response to various drugs or interventions include imaging.

So why should you do research?

Well research…

  • makes the job more interesting as you are discovering new information.
  • is exciting as you get new data or try new techniques that maybe only very few will have used or seen before. You get to know the answers before anyone else!
  • makes you a better radiologist as you will accumulate expertise in an area. You may also get feedback on cases you interpret e.g. if cases are reviewed by more than one person as part of a study.
  • makes you an expert in your field fairly quickly which opens opportunities e.g. membership of committees, guideline writing groups etc. You will have influence on policy as your research may feed into national or international guidelines/protocols and medical practice more generally. 

When should you not do research?

I would suggest you avoid research if you only want to do it to make your CV look better. You would be better off spending your time elsewhere e.g. clinical work or management.

Although research is not for everyone, anyone can get involved in research to some level, even if it is as simple as using a template report in routine reporting in order to assist someone else with their project. You will be amazed at how grateful researchers can be if you help them in this way.

Single slice coronal MR enterography image showing T2 decay of the bowel wall with different TEs in ms
MR enterography images showing T2 decay of the bowel wall with different TEs as part of a research study assessing the repeatability and observer agreement of various bowel wall measurements (used with kind permission of the University of Nottingham and Dr Caroline Hoad. Original article: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10334-021-00931-2)

What research can I do?

There are lots of ways to get involved that fit a range of skill sets and time commitments. These include, but are not limited to:

  • research project design
  • patient recruitment
  • imaging protocol and sequence development
  • data collection & analysis
  • image assessment
  • image post-processing
  • systematic reviews and meta-analyses

The exact topic of a study is not critical to your subsequent career, particularly when you’re starting out. Your aim should be to obtain good experience as almost all research skills are transferable.

Technology changes, individual and departmental interests change and what you do will largely be dictated by the research expertise in the centre you work in. For example, in Nottingham we have an excellent neuroradiology research team, non-cancer GI research and MRI teams amoung others, but other centres around the UK will have other strengths or areas of interest. Often there will only be 1 or 2 centres in the country researching a specific niche.

It is not advisable to try and undertake a research project outside of your centre’s area of expertise unless you have the full support from a senior experienced researcher.

CT of a wooden artist’s mannequin
Researchers used CT imaging to assess the internal structure of a wooden artist’s mannequin for material composition, construction, and damage enabling metallurgy experts to examine the metal bolt holding the head together and narrow the suspected window of construction to the late 18th century (used with kind permission of Bath Spa University, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, and Dr Tom Turmezei)

When can I undertake research?

UK clinical radiology training is 5 years (or 6 for IR) and there is the opportunity to slot in research at anytime during your training

If you want to get a taste of research then there is no need to comit to a full-blown academic career. You can undertake shorter projects to get a feel for what research is like e.g. during an attachment or rotation. This is what we would recommend you do in the first instance. See how do I start radiology research.

You can ask to be peripherally involved in a study, maybe helping another researcher with data collection for a poster or presentation. This approach will largely involve working in your free time (evenings / weekends) with no funding from the university to cover publishing fees or travel to conferences etc.

If, however, you’re keen to get involved in larger studies, then you will need some dedicated time set aside for this. There are many ways of getting resaerch time. Every year there are a number of academic clinical fellowships (ACF) in radiology, typically lasting 3 years at the start of training. These are primarily to help you undertake some research to build some initial data so you can then undertake a longer post-gradate qualification e.g. MD (often completed in 2 years) or 3 year PhD. As an ACF you may choose to have 1 day a week for research or perhaps rather than doing a bit every week, you may go months without any academic time, then take the academic time all at once in ‘blocks’ of a few weeks/months.

In terms of undertaking an MD or PhD, this may involve taking time out of training then returning back to clinical training after a few years. This is a well established pathway to helping you progress as a researcher. There is also some flexability around when you could undertake these higher degrees. You could undertake a PhD before medical school, during undergraduate training, whilst training in radiology or even after you have gained your CCT! There is no significant delay to your career progression, particularly as radiology taining is relatively short, and even a full PhD (3 years) is a relatively short peroid of time compared to a consultant career.

The benefits of following a more formal academic pathway include…

  • career longevity. It is unlikely that research will be outsourced and artificial intelligance (AI) won’t replace research as we need research to see what AI can do!
  • the opportunity to travel all over the world to present your work or speak as an expert on the topic, often with travel/conference costs covered by the research funding.
  • flexible work-life balance. Research is a very flexable career and most work is measured on outcomes/publications. Usually no-one is checking on what you are doing on a day-to-day basis. If you do not want a meeting on a certain day, you can schedule for another day. No-one minds exactly when you collect data, write a paper, grade a report or track changes on work. You can work this around your home life e.g. on evenings or weekends etc. As long as the work is completed then in most cases the University or academic department team don’t mind.

How do I start radiology research?

1. The first and most important thing to do is find a good mentor...

A good mentor is essential. We cannot emphasise this enough. No matter how talented you are you must have someone to help and guide you or you’ll likely fail. Get a mentor, even if you are unsure if research is for you! Even if you have no plans to do an ACF or PhD, having someone to talk to and advise and support you is essential.

How to find a good mentor

How do you find a mentor and how do you know if you’ve found the right person?

You need to seek out senior researchers in your organisation. I would suggest this should be a consultant radiologist undertaking/leading research studies as they can help you navigate research as well as have an appreciation of the challenges of radiology training and established links with your training scheme.

  1. Word of mouth – important, but do not rely on this. You should also…
  2. ‘Google’ them – do they have a track record of publishing papers?
  3. Find out who they supervised previously – talk to them. Get the opinion of previous students and their outcomes form projects they worked on. What did they manage to publish?
  4. Do they have funding for studies? – find out if they hold any grants? Have they been sucessful in obtaining funding for studies in the past?
  5. Who do they collaborate with? – Often sucessful researchers will collaborate with other sucessful researchers both within and outside of your organisation.
  6. What is their expertise? – Ideally this should align with your interests. I would not recommend undertaking research if you are not interested in the topic.

You should be very cautious about undertaking any project, no matter how small if the ‘mentor’ is hard to get hold of, unprofessional, not responsive at answering emails or not making the time for you. Do not waste your time with this. Cut any losses and move on. The personality of your mentor is also important as you must be able to get along with them, particualtly if you are going to spend a length of time with them, for example if you want to undertake a higher degree such as a PhD.

See our section on further support and mentoring for links to good mentors.

The RCR have helpfully created an interactive ‘research map’. This is a mini profile of the academic radiologists engaged in active research in each area of the country. It is not 100% complete, but it may be a good starting point to find someone local to speak to if you’re seeking research experience and mentorship.

View the map here: rcr.ac.uk/clinical-radiology/academic-radiology-and-research/radiology-research-map  

RCR interactive radiology research map of the UK
RCR interactive radiology research map of the UK

2. The second step is to complete the Good Clinical Practice (GCP) training...

What is GCP, why do I need it and and how do I complete the training?

Firstly, Good Clinical Practice (GCP) is NOT synonymous with Good Medical Practice (GMP) which is the GMC guidance we must abide by as doctors (yes this is confusing as they sounds very similar, I agree!). In fact GCP is the international ethical, scientific and practical standard to which all clinical research is conducted. Compliance with GCP assures patients and the public that the rights, safety and wellbeing of people taking part in studies are protected and that research data is reliable.

GCP training will give you an excellent basic understanding of how research is organisaed, the roles of the various members of the research team and it is really good at giving an overview of how research is organised without being overwhelmed. This is the main reason we advise you complete this, especially if you feel a little clueless as to how studies are structured. As a radiology trainee or radiologist, you are likely to be a fairly senior member of a research team, even if your actual role in a study is small, and as such it is important you complete GCP training. Furthermore, often research studies will require those involved to demonstrate that they have completed GCP elearning prior to starting the study and to provide a certificate as evidence so it is time well spent.

There are a few different GCP courses out there, but the one you should do is the ‘Introduction To Good Clinical Practice (GCP) ELearning‘ which can be accessed on the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) website. It is a free 4 hour online elearning course, which you can complete at your own pace. At the end you will receive a certificate. If you continue to undertake research you will also need to undertake regular GCP refresher training (also online) every few years.

You can access GCP courses via the NIHR learning platform, NIHR Learn at: nihr.ac.uk/health-and-care-professionals/learning-and-support/good-clinical-practice.htm  

What external support or mentoring can I get?

Mentoring schemes

ESGAR research mentorship programme  
A year long programme to guide young researchers who have just begun their academic career and have unmet mentoring needs. The programme pairs junior ESGAR members (mentees) with a senior ESGAR member (mentor) outside of their own institution.

BSGAR mentoring programme  
For junior BSGAR members / young consultants for career and developmental support, by pairing them with a senior BSGAR member outside of their own institution.

RCR mentoring scheme  
Supports final year trainees, new consultants and those moving into new roles.

Radiology Academic Network for Trainees (RADIANT)

RADIANT is a UK-wide radiology trainee network with the aim to:

  • Increase trainee engagement in audit and research, including recruitment to imaging studies on the NIHR CRN portfolio
  • Increase trainee engagement in national and international scientific meetings
  • Involve trainees in publications
  • Improve research training for trainees

You can get involved in these large projects by seeking out your local RADIANT trainee representative. RADIANT is supported by the Royal College of Radiologists and National Institute for Health Research. They hold annual meetings virtually or at the Royal College of Radiologists and present their projects at national and international meetings.

Find out more at radiantuk.com  , or get in touch with your local RADIANT representative. Every training scheme should have one.

Royal College of Radiologists Research Day and online resources

The RCR has an entire section of their website dedicated to the support and growth of academic radiology and imaging research. They want to see you do well! Look out for their annual Clinical Radiology Research Day, usually held in November, offering insights into a career with research as well as coverage of the most current imaging research topics.

See more online at: rcr.ac.uk/clinical-radiology/specialty-training/resources-trainees/research-trainees  

You can also email research@rcr.ac.uk for more information.

Royal College of Radiologists Research Certificate

The RCR have a research certificate for non ACF trainees. The aim is to promote and encourage research amongst non–academic radiologists. This allows radiologists who may wish to take up teaching hospital posts to demonstrate their commitment to and understanding of research.

All UK clinical radiology trainees in non–ACF posts are eligible to participate in the scheme, which ideally should be completed no later than 6 months after CCT (it is also open to consultants and others on a case by case basis).

To be awarded the certificate, applicants should sign up for the scheme and then fulfil a set number of requirements which includes attendance at various meetings (which may be: departmental, local or national research meetings; journal clubs; conference scientific sessions etc), attendance at the RCR research day, undertaking research and presenting/publishing results. You will need to gather evidence to show you have met these criteria.

Further details and how to participate in the scheme can be found here: rcr.ac.uk/clinical-radiology/academic-radiology-and-research/research-certificate  

NIHR Associate Principal Investigator (PI) Scheme

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Associate Principal Investigator (PI) Scheme is worth a mention. It is a six month in-work training opportunity, providing practical research experience to help you at the start of your research career. The aim is to give people who would not usually have the opportunity to take part in clinical research in their day-to-day role the experience of working on and delivering an NIHR trial under the mentorship of an enthusiastic local PI. A principle investigator (PI) is a person responsible for the conduct of a research study at a site (e.g. hospital).

You, as the associate PI, will work alongside a local PI for at least six months on a study at the same site. The PI will be your mentor to help you understand what it means to be a local PI on an NIHR portfolio study. You will be expected to complete a checklist of study activities and a learning pathway on NIHR Learn.

You will gain formal recognition of engagement in NIHR Portfolio research studies through the certification of Associate PI status, endorsed by the NIHR and Royal Colleges, which can be added to your training portfolio. This scheme is flexible, popular and great for getting experience in portfolio research.

Further details and how to participate in the NIHR Associate Principal Investigator (PI) Scheme can be found here: nihr.ac.uk/health-and-care-professionals/career-development/associate-principal-investigator-scheme.htm  

RCR Clinical Radiology Academics Speak Honestly PodCast

Demystifying common research jargon

It’s important to understand some of the common language as often this can be a barrier to research. There are many abbreviations thrown about by research departments so we have listed and explained some of the common and important terms here.

GCP (Good Clinical Practice)
The international ethical, scientific and practical standard to which all clinical research is conducted. Anyone involved in research should complete the GCP elearning course (approx 4 hrs) and refresher elearning every few eyars.

PI (Principle Investigator)
An individual responsible for the conduct of the research at a research site. There should be one PI for each research site. If the research is a single-site study, the chief investigator (CI) and the PI will normally be the same person.

CI (Chief Investigator)
The overall lead researcher for a research project.

Sponsor
The organisation taking overall responsibility for effective arrangements being in place to set up, run and report a research project. All research involving NHS patients, their tissue or information should have a sponsor.

Pilot study/data
Preliminary data collection, using your planned methods, but with a very small sample. It aims to test out your research approach, and identify any details that need to be addressed before the main data collection goes ahead. For example, you could perform a novel MRI sequence on a small number of patients to determine the feasibility of an idea.

Grant
An amount of money that an organisation gives to an individual or organization for a particular research purpose.

Pump priming (e.g. “This grant is intended to ‘pump prime’ individuals, collaborations, ideas or institutions”)
A pump priming grant is usually a relatively small amount of money to facilitate the collection of initial pilot data to subsequently allow a researcher to use this to support their application for a much bigger, more expensive high-quality competitive grant.

IRAS (Integrated Research Application System)
A single online system for applying for the permissions and approvals for health and social care / community care research in the UK (myresearchproject.org.uk).

   Further information

Funding sources, awards and research opportunities specific to radiology

With a good idea, a little guidance, and some tenacity you will be surprised what you can secure to fund your research and develop your career!

Radiology Cafe have listed a few of the research funds available to radiologists, as well as some PhD training opportunities. There are a large range of charities and organisations, often looking to support a specific disease. In addition to the more obvious Royal College, NIHR, Research Council, and major charity funding streams, there will always be a specific charity (e.g. CRUK, BHF, CCUK), pharma organisation (e.g. GSK, AstraZeneca), imaging company (e.g. GE, Phillips, Siemens, Canon), tech company (e.g. Google, IBM, Microsoft), and other organisations out there that are looking to support imaging research.

Please contact us if you would like us to add any other sources of funding or tell us of any opportunities you would like listed here.

Funding sources

A more extensive list of organisations and sources of funding (which may be more competitive) can be found on the RCR website at: rcr.ac.uk/clinical-radiology/academic-radiology-and-research/research-links-and-sources-funding  

Radiology research opportunities

MRC/RCR Joint Research Training Fellowships

Cancer Research UK/RCR Joint Research Training Fellowships

University of Nottingham – Early Career Imaging Research Fellowships
For medically-qualified imaging researchers, both at pre- and post-doctoral levels. The posts come with internal pump-priming research support up to £10,000. The fellowships provide a great opportunity for clinical imaging researchers to build their portfolio in preparation for applying for a PhD studentship or post-PhD clinical academic post.
Contact Professor Rob Dineen for more information: Rob.Dineen@nottingham.ac.uk

If you have another opportunity to share, please contact us and let us know the location, supervisor and topic and ideally a weblink/contact for more information.

Radiology Cafe would like to thank Tom Turmezei and Andrew Plumb for distilling some of their research experience onto this page.

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