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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness


Research in psychiatry

Research in psychiatry offers a wide range of opportunities to advance knowledge and practice in a rapidly evolving field.

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Getting started in psychiatric research

Recent years have seen substantial advances in our understanding of the physical, psychological and social mechanisms which underpin psychiatric disorder. At the same time, the range of clinical interventions in the psychiatrist’s armamentarium and the evidence base which supports them continues to grow.

However, even given these advances, it remains true to say that the aetiology and pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders are only partially understood, diagnosis continues to be based solely upon subjective clinical assessment and for many individuals the response to treatment is unsatisfactory. The only way to remedy this situation is through high quality research.

The considerable potential for discovery is perhaps one of the main factors which makes psychiatry such an exciting and fascinating area for research. In addition, psychiatric research is a broad church encompassing a great diversity of approaches towards improving the lives of people with mental disorders. From the interested clinician to the full time academic, the pharmacologist to the psychotherapist, the biologist to the social scientist, each has a role to play.

Research experience is also beneficial to the individual through the development of transferable skills in areas such as critical appraisal, team working and project management. Opportunities to collaborate with colleagues from other institutions and disciplines provide a fertile ground for the growth of new ideas and perspectives.

Finally, there is considerable satisfaction to be gained simply from the detailed investigation of an area of interest.


Early Career Funding Opportunities



Research as a medical student

Several universities include a dedicated research module as part of their course and for many this will be their first taste of psychiatric research. 


Vacation scholarships or electives are also available in some departments and these can be used to carry out short periods of research.  Your medical faculty office should have information about scholarships that are available. Alternatively, make contact with a member of staff from the academic department in your area – most departments of academic psychiatry around the country have websites listing the interests of their various staff. 


For those who wish to carry out a longer, more in depth period of research as part of their degree, the best option is probably an intercalated BSc (sometimes referred to as a BMedSci). Although BScs in psychology and neuroscience may seem the most suitable choice for those pursuing a career in psychiatry, almost any field of science can be related to the study of mental ill health. 


Following their BSc a few individuals choose to carry on their research by taking time out from their medical degree to complete a PhD. It may be possible to organize this within your own university; alternatively some institutions have formalized MBPhD schemes which are also open to applicants from other universities  – University College London and Cambridge University are two of the largest and longest established courses. At the moment this path is more the exception than the rule although there are moves to encourage more people to consider this in the future.   


If you are not sure how to get going then just email or telephone someone from your local academic department. You do not necessarily have to have an idea for a specific project or even know what field of psychiatry you are interested in – at this point in your career enthusiasm and determination are needed more than rigid plans for the future! 


Most academics are pleased when someone takes an interest in their work and there are often opportunities to be had by plugging into an ongoing project. 

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