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Dr James Charlesworth

Academic Foundation Doctor (2020)

Pathway to an AFP position

 I studied medicine as a graduate, following a PhD in immunology. I have always enjoyed translational science and the intricacies of immunological responses – primed to prevent infection, at risk of over-responsiveness leading to allergy and autoimmunity.

 I had been looking to combine my academic interests and clinical work throughout my time in medical school, and I spent a long time deciding if I would benefit from the AFP, given my prior research experience. I’m glad I opted to apply as it was hugely enriching and has reignited my passion for translational immunology research.

What does the work involve?

 I was lucky to have a dedicated four-month academic rotation, outside of clinical duties. To prepare for this, during my FY1 year in Reading, I met with academics and supervisors in Oxford to plan my FY2 block. After meeting with several academics in paediatrics and immunology, I was put in touch with Professor Chris Buckley, who leads a programme of research exploring the stromal immunology of the joint. 

My academic post was laboratory-based, utilising some of the skills from my PhD and developing new techniques in single-cell genomics and quadruple fluorescence immunohistochemistry. I was lucky enough to be supervised by Professor Stephanie Dakin, Professor Chris Buckley and Professor Mark Coles, spending my time in Professor Dakin’s lab at the Botnar Research Institute. It gave me the opportunity to attend seminars across the university, particularly at the Kennedy Institute of rheumatology.

I was delighted to be part of the Human Cell Atlas project, exploring the cellular makeup of the human shoulder joint (capsule), led by Professor Dakin.

Why Oxford?

 The AFP in Oxford was unique in offering free rein to choose a project and supervisor for the allocated academic time. This freedom, whilst challenging, is extremely valuable and is supported by the OUCAGS team and academic mentors.

I had also trained in Oxford and had an interest in remaining in the region. So, I was aware of some of the structures of the University. I wanted to build relationships that could continue during my speciality training in the region.

What have been the pros and cons of the AFP?

 The AFP has consolidated and confirmed my interest in a research career involving immunology, alongside a clinical workload. Sadly, my time was cut short due to COVID, just as we had several crucial experiments planned; these were challenging to continue whilst working clinically.

 What’s next?

The programme highlighted the benefit of having dedicated clinical and research time. I will be looking for ways in the future to carve out some academic time during my training, whether through the formal academic pathway, or by taking some out of programme time for research.