Alastair Wilkins

Alastair did his doctorate at the University of Cambridge in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences. He is now a consultant neurologist and a senior lecturer in neurology at the University of Bristol.

"I had been training in clinical medicine for over five years and was working in hospitals pursuing a career as a clinical neurologist, but during my specialist training I took time out to do a PhD. I did my research at the University of Cambridge between 1999 and 2002 in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences, which is part of the Department of Medicine based at the Brain Repair Centre, Addenbrooke’s Hospital. My research focused on the basic science of multiple sclerosis (MS). I have an interest in neuroscience and liked it as a junior doctor – but I became interested in MS really because that is where the opportunities were. I had also done an undergraduate project on myelin biology and worked for an MS doctor in my junior neurology job.

"A PhD was required to get a training job in neurology, so I did my research between junior medical jobs and specialist training in neuroscience.
I am currently a senior lecturer in neurology and a consultant neurologist at the University of Bristol, dividing my time equally between research and clinical practice. As a group leader I currently supervise two postdoctoral scientists and one laboratory technician. My research interests remain in the basic science of MS, so I have been able to continue some of my previous studies. My research is funded by several charities including the MS Society and Ataxia UK.

"After my PhD I returned to my neurology training programme for a further four years. I also undertook a year of postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. After finishing my neurology training I moved to the University of Bristol to take up a post as an academic neurologist, which had been my aim for a number of years.

"I continue to be involved with research and still work in a similar field to my doctoral research subject. I am now more involved in the planning of research and obtaining funds but still have an active role in performing experiments. In neurology, as a medical speciality, a PhD is a desirable (though not essential) qualification due to its popularity as a career. Neurology is a subject where research is moving at a fast pace, so knowledge of research is an important component of the job.

"My doctoral research was useful and a necessity for my current job. I understand the processes of research and some of the workings of higher educational organisations. It has been useful to learn from mistakes and missed opportunities, and to translate that into becoming an effective supervisor.

"The career path to become a clinical academic is pretty standard. I would advise anyone considering it that it is important to stay in contact with clinical units in order to keep up those skills."