What is it like to experience three of the best universities in the world?

James Ashcroft is an MBChB medicine alumni who certainly excelled during his time at The University of Manchester. As part of the Advanced Personal Excellence Pathway, he had a paper published and got the chance to study at Harvard Medical School. Now, he’s on the Academic Foundation Programme at Imperial College London, a path that newly qualified doctors can take to develop research, teaching and leadership skills. Here, James answers seven questions about all that he achieved as a student and offers some helpful advice to current and prospective medics.


1) What are your memories of the Advanced Personal Excellence Pathway?

The APEP was a great project for research experience. I began by discussing with my supervisor, John Bowes, the research question and then moved on to performing a literature review around the subject. Afterwards, I started to develop my skills in computational genomics in order to investigate the question around genetic variation in psoriatic arthritis. The work I completed was then incorporated into the department’s ongoing work and I was involved in drafting the paper to be peer-reviewed, which was accepted by the world wide top joint disease journal for publication. The APEP gave me a hands on experience of research from formulation of a meaningful question to publication in a peer-reviewed journal, making it the perfect research APEP project.


2) How did it feel to have a paper published?

Having a paper published is really a unique experience. It is fair to say that having work accepted for publication means that you are at the cutting edge of your field and have something new to share with the scientific community. Having information that nobody else knows that is ready to share is an exciting feeling. My publication is a physical representation of the research skills I developed at medical school, the superb supervision and guidance from my tutors, and my own hard work. When I look back on the work I feel proud of my accomplishments, I compare the writing to my first essay at Manchester and see how far I’ve come, and it reminds me of great times I’ve had along the way.


3) What was your experience of Harvard like?

My research at Manchester was advanced through collaboration with Harvard Medical School. I was able to utilise the computational skills and knowledge I gained throughout my degree to complete my work investigating clinical genetic variations in spinal disease. Working and living in Boston, in a vastly different system to the UK, gave me an entirely new perspective of academia and medicine. I was able to lead group meetings and journal clubs, lend clinical input into a team comprising of academics from a range of backgrounds, discuss future plans and projects, and gain an insight into the workings of an international academic lab. Boston itself is a beautiful and bustling city full of student life and shared ideas; it was an incredible place to live. I have made great friends and colleagues in Boston and will visit again.


4) What are you currently doing?

I am currently an academic foundation programme doctor in the North West Thames foundation school at Imperial. My research interests revolve around decision making and attentional function in clinical practice. The academic foundation programme I selected involves a four month block of pure academic work in the neuroergonomics of surgery alongside clinical rotations for the remainder of the two year programme. I am currently applying my research experience from Manchester and Harvard to my programme to formulate a novel research question, design a study protocol to investigate this question, and construct an ethical approval application.


5) Have you noticed any differences between Imperial College and Manchester?

As a postgraduate scientist as opposed to an undergraduate student I realise that I approach learning, lectures and educational sessions in a much different manner. Instead of attending a lecture and asking the question ‘do I need to know this’ I ask ‘what can I take away from this and apply to my own study and work’. This has made my undergraduate and postgraduate learning greatly different and I am very much enjoying advancing my knowledge as a clinician.


6) What are your plans for the future?

I am planning to use my four months’ research time as an academic foundation programme doctor to work within a niche of research. Hopefully, I can then take that forward as an academic clinical fellow which will allow me to balance clinical practice with further academic time and a PhD, and then onwards to professorship…


7) Do you have any tips for currents students?

My biggest tip for current students is to always say ‘yes’ to opportunities which come your way, you never know where they will take you!

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