October 2020

Dr Luke Jelen, MRC Clinical Research Fellow at the Centre for Affective Disorders, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) talks to us about his career and his experience following his BRC Preparatory Fellowship. Our current opportunities page lists any schemes currently recruiting. 

Tell us about your career to date

I studied Medicine and Neuroscience at Newcastle University. Having completed my Foundation Training, I took a year out of clinical training to complete a Masters in Psychiatric Research at the IoPPN. Here, I had the opportunity to take a leading role in a neuroimaging study, investigating dynamics of the brain’s main excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate, in individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  

This led to me being awarded an NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship where I undertook training in clinical psychiatry at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust while continuing to develop research experience in neuroimaging and experimental medicine at the IoPPN.

In 2019 I was grateful to receive a BRC Preparatory Clinical Research Training Fellowship. The time and support during this year was invaluable, allowing me to gain further experience in experimental medicine and develop my own research ideas.

I have subsequently been awarded an MRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship and am currently undertaking a PhD in Neuroimaging at King’s, investigating acute antidepressant mechanisms of ketamine.

How did you first become interested in a clinical academic career?

While studying medicine at Newcastle I volunteered to take part in a neuroimaging study that aimed to understand how the drug lithium works in the brain. The study was led by Dr David Cousins, an enthusiastic, MRC funded, clinical academic psychiatrist who became an inspirational supervisor.

I became fascinated by the idea of using brain imaging as a tool to investigate how different drugs can affect the brain and behaviour. I loved the idea of pursuing a career in psychiatry that would enable me to explore my research interests while remaining clinically active. Supervised by Dr Cousins, my first research project involved me designing, building and testing a lithium MRI head coil that we used to acquire the world’s first 3D lithium MRI images. Since then, I have never looked back!

What attracted you to apply to the BRC Preparatory Clinical Research Training Fellowship?

As I entered the final year of my Academic Clinical Fellowship, I had some initial research ideas for PhD fellowship applications. However, these ideas were not fully developed, and I also had limited pilot data. When I learnt about the BRC Preparatory Fellowship this seemed like the perfect opportunity to have some additional time to refine my research proposal, develop new skills and potentially gather some further pilot data to support my future fellowship applications.

What skills did you develop during the BRC Preparatory Clinical Research Training Fellowship?

During the BRC Fellowship, I gained research experience in a number of psychiatric experimental medicine studies and clinical trials using treatments including ketamine and the psychedelic drug psilocybin.

In parallel to this work, I developed skills in fellowship/grant application writing and was also awarded funding as a co-applicant to further develop a neuroimaging technique to measure glutamate dynamics in the brain. The pilot data from this study, along with the other skills and experience gained during the BRC Preparatory Fellowship, was key in supporting my application for an MRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship. 

How has the BRC Preparatory Fellowship helped you achieve your career aspirations?

I am currently an MRC Clinical Research Training Fellow and honorary psychiatrist working at the IoPPN and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

I have recently commenced my PhD in Neuroimaging and I will be investigating the acute mechanisms of antidepressant response to ketamine. For half a day each week I work clinically in the Maudsley Advanced Treatment Service where I have helped establish a ketamine clinic for individuals with difficult to treat depression.

Looking back, the BRC Preparatory Fellowship proved to be an extremely rewarding year, allowing me to develop as a clinical academic and to continue work on important and fulfilling research.

Do you have any career advice for clinicians starting out in research?

  • Seek out inspirational supervisors and mentors
  • Find your niche
  • Persistence beats resistance
  • There’s always a solution