Ben graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a BSc (Hons) in Biological Science: Virology, and is currently working as a clinical scientist for the Welsh Blood Service.
I saw my trainee position advertised in New Scientist. My first class degree helped my application, but my previous laboratory experience was extremely important: a year on the ERASMUS programme in Sweden where I carried out work in a Molecular Biology/Virology laboratory; eight weeks on an ecology-based project and a further five-week project in the summer after my third year. Most importantly, I was prepared for my application and interview. I investigated immunology and major histocompatibility complex/human leukocyte antigen (MHC/HLA) science and came to the interview armed with some pertinent questions regarding the organisation and the science.
As part of my training I worked towards and achieved my postgraduate diploma, awarded by the British Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics (BSHI). On completion of my three-year contract as a trainee clinical scientist, my contract was renewed and I became a clinical scientist. However, this is not always the case for everyone: after three or four years’ training, trainees and newly qualified scientists may find themselves competing for posts.
A lot of the work I carry out is highly processive, with skilled/hands-on assays and difficult/complex data analysis. Depending on where you work, the work may be purely molecular biology (e.g. polymerase chain reaction (PCR), sequence-based typing) or include serological and/or cellular assays. As a qualified clinical scientist, my job also includes detailed analysis of individual patient cases, training and supervising additional staff, problem-solving, an increasing amount of paperwork and the reporting of results – both in person to clinicians, and by producing reports.
Concentration is a very important skill to have as the work can be quite processive, and close attention to accuracy is required as I’m also responsible and accountable for producing accurate results. Time-management is important, as is a sound scientific brain for absorbing the theory behind H&I. Keeping up to date with scientific developments and continuing professional development is required.
In the future, I hope to attain Health Professions Council (HPC), State Registration, followed by The Royal College of Pathologists, Part 1 examinations. Long term I hope to have a career break to do a discipline-relevant PhD, then the RCPath Part 2 examinations. Following this, my ambition is to have a head of department job, although given the competition in this field, it is quite unlikely!
My work does have some downsides. The processive nature of the job, particularly in the absence of clinical information, can make it seem almost like a production line for results. Post-qualification, it is (locally) also a contractual obligation to be on the On Call rota for out-of-hours transplant support, 24/7. Nighttime on call-outs are not something I look forward to, although these occur relatively infrequently. On the other hand, I get great satisfaction from my work – contributing towards the greater good by facilitating transplants and consequently improving patient health.
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