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Dr Tom McNeilly

Dr Tom McNeilly
Research Scientist, Moredun Research Institute

How many years have you been working in this sector?

11 years as a research scientist; prior to this, 4 years as a full time mixed practice veterinary surgeon followed by a 3 year PhD.

What do you like the most about your job?

Unlike clinical practice, which is largely reactive, academic research allows more time to consider and investigate subjects in more depth, which is intellectually very rewarding. Also, research positions allow one to engage with many very clever and interesting people from all over the globe, and this is a real pleasure and a privilege. 

What led you into your current role or career? 

An interest in developing a specialism within the veterinary profession; in my case this ‘specialism’ happened to be veterinary research.  I would argue that it is critical for more veterinary graduates to engage with research, as this provides the ‘evidence base’ for our more clinical colleagues, as well as bringing unique skills and perspectives to more basic research. 

What are the career progression options in this role?

PhD studentships are generally available to veterinary graduates; however, post-PhD career structures are less well defined. Despite this, there are considerable opportunities for veterinary graduates with PhDs to establish careers within a range of different sectors e.g. industry, academia and government agencies. 

What are the most important skills and experiences that have got where you are today? 

Firstly, spending time in clinical practice before undertaking a PhD was extremely useful as not only did it allow me to develop a unique skill set (both clinical and communication skills), it gave me time to carefully consider a career in research prior to undertaking my PhD. Choosing a good PhD supervisor was also critical as the transition from clinical to research work requires strong support and mentoring. I was careful to choose an area of research which I found of real interest, and also an area in which I could make a unique contribution and thus establish myself as an independent researcher.

Any tips or advice you would give to someone thinking of going into this type of career?

I strongly recommend that any veterinary graduate considering a career in research spends some time in clinical practice to gain their clinical skills. If possible, some exposure to research (summer or short term projects, intercalated degrees or masters courses) is advisable before embarking on a PhD – the PhD is a considerable commitment and is not to be taken lightly. It is also important to choose an area of research that really excites you – this will enable you to keep the motivation when things do not go according to plan! Finally, try and develop a unique skill set which will make you competitive and sought after within the research community.