This is a guest blogpost from Mohammed Jawad, an honorary clinical research fellow at Imperial College London who recently spent a month at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, thanks to a grant from the Daniel Turnberg Travel Fellowship scheme. The scheme, led by the Academy of Medical Sciences, provides opportunities for biomedical researchers to travel from the Middle East to the UK, or vice versa, for up to four weeks at a time. This year, A small number of three-month fellowships will also be available.
Late in 2012, as a recent graduate from Imperial College School of Medicine, I found myself developing a strong interest in academic public health medicine, and began to search for ways to enhance my research skills.
At the time, I was beginning to develop an expertise in waterpipe tobacco smoking (also known as narghile, or shisha), a traditional form of smoking originating from the Middle East that has seen a recent popularity surge in the West. I was making good progress in the field, taking every opportunity to conduct research and present my findings at conferences.
Amidst my busy working life as a junior doctor, I stumbled across the Daniel Turnberg UK/Middle East Travel Fellowship scheme. I was cautiously optimistic when I applied for a Fellowship in January 2013, but was delighted when I was selected and it became an important step in my career.
I visited the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, in September 2013, where my supervisors would be leading experts in waterpipe tobacco smoking. I went with a bag full of enthusiasm and motivation, which was wholly reciprocated by my supervisors.
By liaising with several members of the Faculty and maintaining a strong work ethic, I was able to initiate no less than six research projects, and ended the Fellowship with three draft manuscripts to take away with me. During my time at the university, I was also given the opportunity to present my research to students and faculty staff on two occasions, the latter receiving local media attention, which was a new but very enjoyable experience.
For those thinking of applying to the Fellowship, I do have some advice to share. Match your area of research interest with a suitable colleague at your host institution, and start early discussions in order to show commitment to the Fellowship on your application form. This will also help generate potential project ideas that will make your visit more effective. Bear in mind that a month’s visit is not usually enough to time to complete a full research project, so use the time wisely to establish a healthy rapport with your team. Constructing a strong foundation during your stay will enable you to continue your project(s) when you return to your home institution.
Finally, be initiative-seeking and enjoy your time! Academics do work hard, but you have to show to your colleagues that you have a personality beyond the library. I joined the university football team, experienced the culture and lifestyle of a Middle Eastern city and made a host of friends on the way. It certainly was a new and uplifting experience that I wholeheartedly recommend to those wishing to expand their academic credentials. If you’re not successful in your application, don’t be disheartened, for the early discussions with your potential supervisor will certainly pave the way for continued future collaborations with that institution. Just keep hunting for opportunities, and eventually it will pay off.
Round 6 of the Daniel Turnberg UK/Middle-East Travel Fellowship Scheme is now open for applications. More details can be found on the Academy of Medical Sciences website. The deadline to submit applications is Wednesday 15 January 2014, 17:00 (GMT).
Applications are sought from clinical and non-clinical researchers from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and the UK, whose research falls within the broad scope of medical or bioscience research.