ACF in Medical Oncology
Dr Sarah Briggs (2014)
Pathway to an ACF position
I completed my pre-clinical and clinical training in Oxford where I was always interested in basic science and understanding disease processes. From there I went to London for an Academic Foundation post and, following this, took a year out of clinical training which included a visiting research fellowship at Yale University in the US.
My experiences convinced me that a more varied training, with both clincial and research interests, would be a more stimulating and exciting career choice than clinical training alone. Having settled on clinical training in medical oncology, my time in America sparked an interest in the genetic basis of disease. I knew that particular research groups in Oxford had stong reputations in cancer genetics, and I was confident, from both my experience as a medical student and the experience of friends who had stayed in Oxford, that academic training here would be outstanding.
What does the work involve?
As an ACF in Core Medical Training (CMT), the second year of my research programme was dedicated to research full-time, which allowed me to integrate with my group and get stuck in. My research has two main focuses: firstly, exploration of the role of the genes POLE and POLD1 in hereditary cancer (where mutations in the exonuclease domains cause a syndrome called Polymerase Proofreading-Associated Polyposis) and in somatic tumour development; secondly, the discovery of new candidate colorectal cancer-predisposition genes in families with multiple adenomas or early-onset colorectal cancer through whole-genome sequencing.
I have been able to regularly attend departmental meetings and seminars, and presented my work at lab meetings and at The American Society of Human Genetics 2014 Conference in San Diego. I have also completed the Postgraduate Certificate in Health Research, and teach fourth- and sixth-year clinical medical students at New College.
My research year was interrupted by maternity leave, and since then I have worked part-time to look after my daughter. OUCAGS have been really supportive in the various challenges this has thrown up. Balancing clinical training, a young child and ongoing research is tricky, but made easier with the generous support of those around me!
There are many pros to being an ACF. I’ve tried to make the most of the many training opportunities, including OUCAGS and departmental meetings, lectures from eminent researchers, and courses. I have found the support provided by OUCAGS for research, conferences, and wider life issues (such as having children) to be outstanding. The only real disadvantage is that it can be difficult to balance research, teaching and clinical commitments, but being enthusiastic about all of them helps.
I knew from my experience as a student that the academic environment and support for trainees in Oxford is fantastic, and also that in my field I would be working within a group with an outstanding reputation. With regular OUCAGS and departmental meetings, as well as access to talks throughout the University, there are many opportunities for inspiration and plenty of other training opportunities, such as the Postgraduate Certificate and teaching courses available. In addition, Oxford is a beautiful and interesting city to live in, with lovely countryside at our doorstep and an easy journey to London.
My ACF post has confirmed my interest in research and given me increased confidence to pursue this. I plan to apply for a PhD fellowship, once I have completed another year of my clinical training, to continue research in the same field.