Preparing for an interview for a Clinical Research Training Fellowship

Professor Moira Whyte: So the interview or the CRTF is extremely important, which of course is why it’s done. It tells us very clearly whether the candidate themselves really owns their own project, whether they have enthusiasm for it, whether they understand the questions that they’re trying to address, and if they understand the experimental approaches that they’re going to use. And this becomes remarkably clear in the interview, often from some quite simple question about an aspect of the project. whether the candidate really themselves has ownership of their proposal. Professor Faisal Ahmed: Of course we’re not expecting that person to necessarily be an expert in the area they’re going to be launching in to, but they need to have some knowledge of what they plan to do. Sometimes we come across people who have never been in the lab before and the project they’re proposing is something very laboratory based. That’s all right as long as they have an idea of what it involves, what the
pitfalls might be, and I think that’s very useful. Professor Elieen Joyce: I think preparation is critical because, even if you’re very nervous, if you’ve gone through the topic and have been asked questions on it before, you’re more likely to be able to answer properly. So I would say practice
being in an interview situation with people around you in your work environment, colleagues or friends, so that you are aware of potential questions that could be asked, and that you feel more comfortable in a situation where you’re in front of a panel of a lot of different people. Professor Ian Sabroe: So when a person comes in for interview, the key thing that they need to understand is all of us have been in the chair that they’re sitting in and all of us have started our careers somewhere, so actually we’re on the side of the candidate. We’re not trying to catch them out, we want to give them an opportunity to show what they know and to shine. We understand that they’ll be nervous, we see different levels of confidence and we make full allowance for that. Professor David Ray: It’s absolutely essential that the candidates take the opportunity of having, probably multiple practice interviews within their host institution or network of colleagues. They need to be challenged to defend the project, they need to engage in the experience of dialogue where they’re being challenged and pushed to explain things, and that they can explain things in two or three sentences clearly, and that’s absolutely essential. Professor Elieen Joyce: The other thing about the interview is that it gives the candidate time to look at the reviews that they receive from their written project and to prepare their presentation in the face of that. And I think if a candidate takes on board some of the reviewers’ comments it becomes quite clear to the panel that this has been the case, and it makes you feel that the candidate has some level of reflection about their project. And that’s rather encouraging, I think, about a potential scientist or a leader in the field. Dr Hamish McAllister-Williams: I think the three minute presentation the candidates give can be very challenging for them. They’re often very nervous when they first come in, and I think that it’s important to maybe start off on some solid ground, something to try and help them relax a little bit. The panel are very used to candidates being anxious and I don’t think people should overly worry about that. But I think it is a good thing to think about how you’re going to cope with that and, as I say, maybe start your three minute presentation off by something that you can be reasonably nice and safe and secure on. And I think, make sure that you’ve practised it plenty of times so that you know what you’re going to say and you know that it’s not going to take lots more than three minutes. In terms of the content of that three minute presentation, I think the applicant really needs to be able to give a little bit of a snapshot of themselves, where they are in their career, and how the CRTF is really going to help them move on to the next stage of their career. Then I think it’s important to be able to stress the importance of the
research area where they’re working and the novelty of what they are doing, how their work fits in to the current research and evidence base. Candidates have been given feedback from the referees, and I think it is also important that they do address any comments or criticisms that they’ve identified in the referees’ comments, as well as saying how the project might well have changed a little bit from the time the application is
made. Again, I think that’s something candidates can sometimes get rather anxious about, but actually I think that shows good logical scientific development if you’ve learnt from thinking about the project more, other data that’s been published, and you’ve modified the proposal appropriately and accordingly. Professor Jane Armitage: Speak clearly and be passionate about your subject, try to answer the question that you’re asked and not, you know, not go round the corner at it. Take advice from the panel if they’re offering it to you. Professor David Dockrell: I enjoy seeing the enthusiasm of the people who come to be interviewed. I know at the time the applicants may not feel it’s a very positive experience, but there’s a tremendous energy and enthusiasm which, despite their nerves or anxiety, still come across. And, you know, I think it’s also great for
us to see that there are people who are still enthused about careers in academic medicine, and that’s obviously very important for all of us, it keeps us going. Professor Moira Whyte: So I have to say that being chair of the CRTF panel is an enormously enjoyable experience. I think all of us feel it’s a genuine privilege to see people embarking on a research career. And for members of the panel who have served longer than I have, they have the great pleasure of seeing candidates come back at clinician scientist level, and beyond, and seeing how their academic careers are evolving. We really do, I think, get something back from the enthusiasm of the candidates for their work, and being introduced ourselves to areas of medicine in which we’re not expert, or new scientific approaches that we’re unfamiliar with. It’s overall an extremely enjoyable experience.

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