Dr Aubrey CunningtonI am a Clinical Senior Lecturer in Paediatric Infectious Diseases at Imperial College, and honorary Consultant in Paediatric Infectious Diseases. I currently hold a MRC Clinician Scientist Fellowship.

I studied medicine at Oxford University, qualifying in 2000 and then training in Paediatrics before entering sub-specialty training in Paediatric Infectious Diseases. I always intended to become a clinical academic, and did a variety of small research projects throughout my clinical training, but I wanted to get a substantial amount of clinical experience before taking time out to pursue a PhD. I had cultivated a longstanding interest in malaria research since my medical school elective in Kenya, and in 2008 I started a PhD at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, investigating how malaria causes susceptibility to bacterial co-infections. Funded by a MRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship, I had the opportunity to conduct both basic science and more clinical research, between the UK and the MRC Gambia Unit. When I completed my PhD I returned to the final year of very busy clinical sub-specialty training, and discovered that I had too little training time left to be eligible for clinical lecturer posts. My clinical job left me very little time to prepare a competitive application for an intermediate level research fellowship, which would be the next step to becoming an independent clinician scientist. The ISSF scheme seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a short term academic post that would allow just enough time to develop a competitive research application.

I was delighted by the faith that was put in me when I was received the ISSF VIP award. Fortunately this faith turned out to be well placed, and in the course of the ISSF VIP award I submitted successful applications for both a Wellcome Trust Early Postdoctoral Clinical Research Fellowship and a MRC Clinician Scientist Fellowship. I would advise others who are very serious about a clinical academic career to consider the ISSF VIP scheme as a potential bridge over gaps in the current clinical academic career pathway. The application process was very straightforward, and the award afforded a rare opportunity to focus on preparing really strong fellowship applications.

The VIP award not only gave me time to write fellowship applications, but also to read, think, evolve new hypotheses, and forge new collaborations. I wanted to turn my research focus to trying to unravel the mechanisms of severe malaria in humans, a slight departure from my PhD studies. The precious time afforded by the VIP award also allowed me to turn the intellectual content of the grant applications into two influential review / perspective articles (in Trends in Parasitology, and Science Translational Medicine). I was also able to complete some ongoing projects and, somewhat unexpectedly, to begin new ones. I was given the opportunity to supervise two excellent academic foundation programme doctors who I helped to get a small grant award to fund consumables costs, and set up a study investigating mechanisms of susceptibility to bacterial infections in children with sickle cell disease (recently published in Haematologica).  

I am now in the second year of my MRC Clinician Scientist Fellowship, and looking back it is clear that the VIP award really did act as a springboard to help me achieve a remarkable amount. My MRC-funded project is progressing apace, but I also find myself managing a portfolio of projects which began during the VIP award - all have received successful follow-on funding. These include additional projects on malaria and sickle cell disease, and allow me to maintain a broad interest ranging from quite basic science to studies very much directed at patient benefit.