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Your Quick Guide to MB-PhDs/Integrated PhDs

Having been on an MB-PhD programme for a few months now, I realised that a lot of people are unaware of what an MB-PhD, or intercalated/integrated PhD entails. Clearly I love the idea of a programme like this, hence why I’m a candidate on an MB-PhD programme myself so here I am to tell you more about them!

The terminology used to refer to this type of programme will depend on where you are based but for the sake of simplicity, I will be using “MB-PhD” for the rest of this blog post.

Whether I end up convincing you to apply for an MB-PhD or not, I hope I can provide you with information to make an informed choice as to whether an MB-PhD is for you, hope you enjoy reading!

What Is An MB-PhD?

Breaking down the name of the programme, “MB” refers to a medical degree (MBChB or MBBS depending on your medical school) and “PhD” refers to doctoral-level studies where you spend 3-4 years researching a specific topic. Thus, an MB-PhD is a dual-degree programme where you end up with both a medical degree and PhD at the end of your studies.

Some UK medical schools have a 6-year medical degree which already includes an integrated Bachelors’ degree, so you can move on to a PhD after the Bachelors’. If you’re currently intercalating on a Bachelors’/Masters’ while on a 5-year medical degree (or potentially a 4-year programme), you may also be eligible to apply for a PhD, depending on the specific programme.

For me, my MB-PhD will be a total of 8 years: 5 years for the medical degree and 3 years for the PhD. I completed 3 out of the 5 years of my MBChB prior to starting my PhD and my PhD application was made while I was in 3rd year of Medicine.

What Can You Do Your PhD In?

In Manchester, there are two MB-PhD programmes you can apply to: one in cancer and one in inflammation. Based on my research, there are other areas in which you can do an MB-PhD, such as cardiovascular sciences if your PhD is funded by the British Heart Foundation while the programmes at Imperial, UCL and Cambridge appear to be open to any research area (see list below).

Where Can You Do an MB-PhD?

See below for a list of UK MB-PhDs that I found, these include but are not limited to Manchester, Cambridge, Imperial, UCL, Birmingham and Edinburgh. Some programmes may be open to medical students across the UK, for example I know that the cancer sciences PhD at Manchester is only available to Manchester/St. Andrews medical students, whereas the inflammation programme is open to medical students based in the UK as long as they meet the programme’s eligibility criteria.

Why a PhD? Why Not?

I already knew that I wanted to intercalate, the question was which programme I wanted to do. It was also quite clear that I was interested in cancer after doing some projects in the area so I had narrowed my choices down to programmes in the biomedical sciences, mostly related to cancer/oncology.

I also knew that I wanted to go down the clinical academic pathway, eventually ending up with my own research group so a PhD was something I would have to do at some point. I will be writing about academic careers as a medic and the clinical academic pathway in a future blog post if you’d like to learn more about it!

Having done my research, I felt that doing a PhD earlier on in my career would give me more time to build on the skills and network I develop, without as many life-related concerns e.g. having a partner/family to balance while building an academic career. Cancer is a big area of research within Manchester and I knew that I would be getting world-class training, with lots of support from other clinical academics who are also based here.

My MB-PhD programme is also fully funded which resolved a lot of financial concerns that I had as an international student. Ultimately, the decision to apply came down to the projects I chose and experiences I had interacting with people on the programme: I had a great time on a summer placement with one of the labs offering a project, so much that I chose that lab as my first choice when applying! I have linked a short piece I wrote about my summer placement experience and will also write more about choosing a PhD project in a separate blog post.

Why not a PhD? Coming from a background with very little wet lab experience, I am experiencing a very steep learning curve on the PhD. If you have read any instalments of “Being Confused with Jean”, you will know that I get by most days with an underlying sense that I don’t know what I’m doing. But that is the essence of research since you're discovering new knowledge. My secret Santa gift from someone in the lab this year is the cutest mug that says: “If I knew what I was doing, it wouldn’t be called research, would it?” and I absolutely love it!

Academia in general is a field with a hidden curriculum and it is still quite unfamiliar to me, despite the lengths I have gone to learning more about the pathway and gaining experience. Just imagine yourself walking in the dark, trying to figure out the next step to take without quite knowing what the path in front of you looks like.

Most of my friends from medical school are doing something different to me so it is quite a lonely path I have chosen to embark on, with a significant time commitment to it. However, I do not regret the choice that I made - I’m enjoying myself working in the midst of people who inspire me everyday, with a lot of support to ensure I reach my full potential.

Closing Thoughts

There are always opportunities to do a PhD at various time points of your career as a doctor so an MB-PhD is not the be all and end all. In fact, a PhD may not be what you need to pursue your career goals - this is what I have chosen to do in light of my career goals and current circumstances. I hope this information will help you make an informed choice about doing an MB-PhD and if you end up doing one, welcome to the MB-PhD life!

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