Research opportunities for undergraduates

What is a clinical academic career?

The integrated academic training pathway outlines the steps in pursuit of a clinical academic career.

Clinical academics are employed jointly by the NHS and a university to undertake research and teach in their specialty of interest. Clinical academics are experts and leaders in their field; constantly driving change by translating research into clinical practice to improve patient care.

The integrated academic pathway seeks out the brightest talent to answer the most challenging research questions and bring innovative solutions to the forefront. The National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), Medical Research Council (MRC) and Wellcome Trust are some of the largest and most prestigious funding bodies for clinical academics.

How can I get involved in research as an undergraduate student?

The best way to know if a research career is for you is to take part in a research project. This can be as part of your medical school curriculum or extracurricular. Here are some suggestions of how you can get involved in research as a medical student:

Intercalated degree

Opportunity to spend dedicated time (usually up to 12 months) in an area of interest. This could be laboratory based or clinical, quantitative or qualitative, public health or global health, ethics and law or history of medicine, plus many more. Make sure to get the most of your intercalation by aiming for conference presentations and a research publication, after all your hard work!

Research elective

Undertake a research project as part of your medical elective. An academic supervisor will help to support you with this. For example, you could do a review paper or cross-sectional analysis. 

Research Student Selected Components (SSCs)

The projects you undertake in your SSC could be expanded into research projects. Consult with your SSC supervisor to make this happen. This might involve extended data collection and literature review. 

Research studentship/placements

Opportunity to spend 4-12 weeks undertaking research over the summer break. This gives you dedicated time to explore an area of interest. You can undertake a research studentship anywhere in the UK or around the world, and all it takes is identifying a research supervisor who can support you. There are also research studentship prizes you can apply for to cover your living expenses. This offers another great chance to get published and secure conference presentations. 

Research projects

You could complete a research project alongside your medical studies, but make sure it fits in with your schedule and ensure you discuss realistic time frames with your supervisor. 

Attending/presenting at professional conferences

Attending, or even better presenting at research conferences provides a great opportunity to network with clinical academics and meet leaders in the field. You could come away from a research conference with a research opportunity in place!

Making the most of research opportunities

Research projects are immensely rewarding, but take time, effort and commitment to ensure delivery. You, therefore, want to make sure you are getting the most out of them. Speak to your supervisor early on about what you hope to achieve and seek out every opportunity. From every research project, aim for:


Ideally, go for national or international conferences and submit an abstract for oral or poster presentations. Some conferences even publish the abstracts! Local and regional conference meetings will also help build your networking and presentation skills. Conferences are held throughout the year but check with your supervisor which are most relevant for your research area. 

Prizes and awards

Go for a prize! This could be an essay prize, a grant or research funding e.g., studentship award, or conference prize. These are highly sought after but make you stand out. There are lots of prizes available on the Royal Society of Medicine website and see the Royal College website for your area of interest. 


Peer-reviewed publications are how scientists share knowledge and provide new information to advance the field. Therefore, we have a duty to publish research we generate, so should always be aiming for a research publication. Remember that you are not in it alone; the writing process will feel daunting when you have not done it before but your supervisor and research team will provide useful comments to polish the final product and get it ready for submission to a scientific journal. Remember that the publication process takes time (usually 4-8 months, or more).  


Picking your research project

The 3 Ps will help you to decide if the research project is right for you:


Are you the right person for the research project? Do you have the enthusiasm to drive this research project forward and work with your supervisor to overcome barriers as they arise? What have you learnt in your past experiences of research and how can you apply this to advance your research acumen in this new project?


Is the project right for you? What is the nature of the project, e.g., laboratory or clinical, qualitative or quantitative? Do you thrive in this research setting? If you are not sure or want to try a new research area, do you have a good relationship with your supervisor and can they offer you mentorship to succeed in this project?


Is the project you want to complete being undertaken in an institute with experience in this area? World leading research comes from world leading institutes and academics, so do your homework to see if the setting is right for you and for your research question. In the early stages of your research journey, what you need is support from your research team and to surround yourself with mentors who will help you flourish.  

Plus, professional and Personal Development

What is there for you to gain out of this research opportunity? Learning a new research method, writing a grant proposal or research protocol, or submitting to research ethics? What training courses could you attend to support your personal and professional development?

How can I make myself competitive for an academic career?

Top tips:

  1. Embrace research opportunities.
  2. Aim high – presentations, prizes and publications can all be achieved with the right project.
  3. Use SMART goals to help keep the project on track.
  4. Identify mentors early on and network at every opportunity.
  5. Research is immensely rewarding but takes time, effort, and commitment

Clinical Academic Training

Getting involved in research as an undergraduate student provides the platform to launch into a research career:

  • AFP – Academic Foundation Programme: academic time during your foundation programme
  • ACF – Academic Clinical Fellowship: academic time during your core training/GP training
  • CRF – Clinical Research Fellowship: PhD or Masters Degree
  • ACL – Academic Clinical Lecturer: academic time during your registrar training/GP

What is CEDAM doing to support undergraduates in research? 

  • CEDAM Research engagement - inspiring talks from academics who are leaders in their fields.
  • CEDAM Careers Crunch – Building bridges to link up undergraduate students with CEDAM supervisors.
  • CEDAM Research masterclass – Equipping students with the skillset needed to excel in their CEDAM research projects. 

Positive feedback from students who have undertaken CEDAM research projects

“My CEDAM project has been very interesting, and my supervisor has been very helpful in guiding the students in the group.”

“I am currently taking part in my research project, but I am truly passionate and feel that this project will make a difference to patient care.”

“This project resulted in loads of abstracts due to it being a large-scale study, lots of opportunities to attend and present conferences.”

“Lots of opportunities and got to meet clinicians in endocrinology - I actually ended up contacting one of the clinicians at the event for my elective project and ended up getting an individual research project for my elective & several case reports to write.”

“All the clinicians/ researchers were fantastic and willing to provide opportunities for medical students.”

“Friendly and approachable members of staff presented their projects in a simple, friendly, and direct way. Amazing event as it is difficult for students to become involved in research. The research staff involved were all kind and friendly. They were very direct and upfront with how much time and effort expected of students and what we should expect to get out of the projects which was greatly appreciated.”

“Very fair system. It seemed as if the staff involved actually did wait till the deadline before selecting candidates according to the short statements sent to them. There did not seem to be much bias towards older years who may have 'more on their CV', which despite being a final year medical student, I appreciated, on behalf of those in more junior years who may lack research experience. Research supervisors all seemed very keen to give opportunities to those who did not have any research experience.”