My name is Ciaran Clarke and I am
studying a masters in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response (HCR). My
background is far removed from the history, international relations, and
sociology which forms a large part of my degree. In fact, despite studying a
postgraduate degree, I am still an undergraduate! I am studying the Masters
between my fourth and fifth year of undergraduate medicine.
This is known as intercalation and
is traditionally pursued by medics who want to study one aspect of science in
greater detail, such as physiology or pharmacology. Manchester Medical School
is particularly unique in the breadth of options available for intercalation.
However, the HCR Master’s degree stood out for me. I have always wanted to
undertake medical humanitarian work, but the multitude of issues surrounding
this field have always left me feeling uneasy. I felt that the HCR Masters
would give me an opportunity to grapple with these issues and develop a better
understanding of how medical aid can be delivered effectively.
The Masters programme has been
incredibly rewarding, particularly for someone coming from a science degree.
The complexity of humanitarian aid has been unveiled to me, going to a depth of
understanding which I never imagined reaching. This has included asking myself
questions which have never before crossed my mind, such as – is providing aid
always good? A year ago I would have likely said yes, but through studying
disciplines such as history, ethics and public health I have come to realise
that no straightforward answer exists. For instance, there are instances of aid
being used to extend conflicts, when it has fallen into the ‘wrong’ hands and
been sold on a black market and provided funds for armed forces.
One of the great things about the
Masters is the wealth of experience I have been surrounded with. It is
difficult not be inspired when you turn up on a Tuesday morning and your
lecturer starts telling you about his recent United Nations meeting or her
trips to war torn parts of northern Sri Lanka to provide medical assistance. As
a postgraduate taught (PGT) degree, for two thirds of the year my days are a
mix of lectures, seminars and private study. After handing in my essays in May,
I will then have the remainder of my degree free for my dissertation.
My dissertation gives me the
opportunity to study one aspect of humanitarianism in real depth. My current
focus is on the development of sustainable healthcare systems following
humanitarian crises. Medical aid has often been directed towards specific
diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Polio, Malaria or Tuberculosis, this is known as a
vertical approach. While this can tackle specific diseases, when the money dries
up it is unlikely that a robust healthcare system will remain. But many of the
countries that have require medical aid have limited infrastructure and trained
personnel for developing an all-encompassing or ‘horizontal’ approach. The
question remains, how do we approach healthcare development in a sustainable
manner without spreading resources so thin that they don’t have any effect? It
seems that a compromise between the two needs to be reached!
The greatest challenge for me has
been learning to adapt to a completely novel set of disciplines. Getting my
head around and then critiquing theories of learning, international relations
and in depth history articles has been a very different challenge to memorising
the signs of liver failure!
Going forward, I still hope to
undertake medical aid work in the future, but the Masters has made me realise
that I must wait until I am a relatively independent practitioner. Therefore, I
will continue on my medical training, hopefully pass my finals and then start
as a junior doctor in 2017!
For those of you who want to find
out more about the incredible staff at HCRI then click this link
Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors
Without Borders) website http://www.msf.org.uk/
An overview on the current state of
the ‘humanitarian system’ http://www.alnap.org/what-we-do/effectiveness/sohs
The full range of intercalation
options open to medical students at UoM http://www.mms.manchester.ac.uk/study/why-study-medicine-manchester/intercalation/
For an insight into some of the
problems with aid watch the film “The Trouble with Aid” (2012)
If someone had asked me at the start of my final year of my
undergraduate degree, ‘do you fancy doing a PhD when you finish uni?’ my answer
would have been an outright NO! Yet, here I am, now in my second year of my PhD
in the role of exercise on cardiovascular disease risk in psoriasis. So what changed my mind? Well, it was only
when I entered my final year of my undergraduate degree that I actually started
to seriously consider my career options. My undergraduate degree was in
Biomedical Sciences and I wanted to find out what I could do with my degree
(aside from the obvious career pathways like Biomedical Scientist or scientific
So, after hours of trawling the internet, numerous career
appointments and countless chats with my academic tutors I had a much clearer
idea of what was out there. However, despite all this time and effort I
invested into researching potential future careers I still wasn’t 100% sure.
Although, I particularly liked the idea of becoming a medical writer because
writing is something I like doing and something that I enjoy. Also I had a lot
of time for my subject area as I found it interesting and enjoyed learning
about various aspects of science.
Another thing which interested me was intellectual property,
which was first brought to my attention in one of my pharmacology lectures. I
soon learned that I could become a patent attorney. The more I read about this
area of work, the more it appealed to me. This career path is an opportunity to
merge law and science. Naturally, because I don’t have a background in law
(like the vast majority of patent attorneys according to my research) this
career requires you to undertake training and sit examinations. This is
something which doesn’t really bother me too much (after all I’ve already spent
years doing it and a couple more won’t hurt!). Anyway, after reading up on
what’s required for this type of career I found that a PhD is ‘preferable.’ Now
I know this doesn’t mean a PhD is essential, however, I thought whether I
decide to go into medical writing or become a patent attorney, either way a PhD
will stand me in good stead.
So that’s when I took the plunge and began searching for a
PhD. I had a specific criterion already in mind in terms of what I wanted from
a PhD. The things I knew for sure was: a) I wanted to stay at the University of
Manchester, b) I wanted a PhD with a studentship so I didn’t have to worry
about funds for the next 3 or 4 years and c) I didn’t want a PhD that was
solely lab-based (I didn’t mind a bit of lab work but I hated being in the lab
for hours on end!). So with all this in mind I started looking at what was on
offer and began to pick out projects which captured my interest.
Eventually, I decided to apply for two PhD projects. I
realise this doesn’t sound like a lot but the way I saw it was a PhD is a huge
commitment and I wanted to be sure that my chosen project was something I was
interested in and something I wanted to dedicate my time and effort to. And so
for this reason I was very selective in terms of my applications for PhD
projects. Something else which really helped me decide on which projects I
wanted to submit applications to was going and actually talking to the
supervisors about the project and what exactly I would be doing as a PhD
student on their project.
So… out of the two applications I submitted I was invited
for interview for one of the projects along with two other candidates. The
supervisor requested that each candidate put together a presentation covering
various topics including: why did we want to do a PhD, why did we want to do a
PhD in Manchester and why did we want this specific project. Each candidate was
also sent a copy of the research proposal which we were asked to read and
comment on in our presentations. We had to say how we would structure our
approach/time to the work outlined in the proposal and also comment on how we
would perhaps improve the proposal and what other ideas we had.
The interview itself was, as you can imagine, nerve-wracking
and very stressful! However, it was a valuable experience. There were five
interviewers on the panel, three of which were my potential supervisors.
Personally, I found the interview particularly stressful as I was up against
two other candidates who both had a Master’s degree along with other research
experience, whereas I had just come to the end of my undergraduate degree and
was expected to achieve a 2.1.
Anyway, after the stress of my final exams and the PhD
interview I found out (just a few days after the interview) that I had been
awarded the position on the PhD programme. Naturally, I was over the moon and
accepted the place on the programme! Now here I am in my second year of my PhD
and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience so far.
Find out about studying Biomedical Science at the University of Manchester here. This blog was originally posted on the University of Manchester careers blog, which can be found here. You can find more information about careers in Biomedical Science here and here.