Find out more about what it's like to work as an academic researcher in rheumatology.

Academic researchers carry out original, high-level research that generates new knowledge and progresses current understanding.

As an academic researcher you'll apply your expertise and skills developed through study and research. You'll aim to publish papers on your work in peer-reviewed, well-respected journals and will write reports, books or chapters of books on your specialist area of knowledge.


For a research career you'll need to complete a PhD, which can take 3-4 years full time and 5-8 years part-time. It's recommended you get a taste for research first; there are internships available for health professionals and nurses to conduct small-scale research projects, such as the Versus Arthritis MSK Internship, and starter funds available from professional bodies to conduct clinical audits and pilot trials in the NHS.

If you're a clinician, health professional or nurse with little or no track record in research, you could get involved with research projects as a clinical advisor, or help with recruitment and intervention delivery for some hands-on experience. 

If you already have a postgraduate degree and some experience of research, you can apply to fund a PhD through clinical fellowship programmes and various studentships advertised through organisations such as the NIHR, MRC and arthritis charities. There are also mentorship programmes across the UK for NHS clinicians wanting to do research, such as our mentoring scheme. Alternatively, if you already have a research track record, you could look into doing a PhD by Publication.


The academia pathway is varied depending on where you are in your career and your role. There are full time research posts available, such as a research assistant or a research fellow. Most of these roles are available on temporary contracts and require research qualifications and previous research experience. Some research roles also include lecturing and leading modules and programmes.

Clinical academics may split their time between clinical practice, research and lecturing. This is a good option if you like to vary your career and keep up with clinical practice.

Training opportunities

There are vast amounts of training opportunities within the rheumatology community, including BSR conferences, events and courses, delivered at a fraction of the cost you would normally expect to pay in academia.

There are also online courses and expert webinars, as well as our mentoring scheme, popular amongst academics and clinicians who are keen to learn from each other, expand their networks and collaborate with for future projects.

A typical week

Every research post is different, depending on the project. Some are more office-based in universities, while others involve travelling to different sites to meet patients and research partners or spending time in the field to observe participants.

You'll be looking to make new discoveries, which requires applying for grants to fund your research, training others in your team to deliver your project's aims, getting your research published, disseminating your findings at external meetings and conferences and hopefully achieving impact in which you help to shape rheumatology guidelines and practice in the future.

If you're dividing your academic time with clinical work, there's a mix of time spent on research and time in a hospital, so you'll need to be organised and manage your time really well across multiple roles and priorities. You'll be supervising other Masters and PhD students and might also be teaching.

Most researchers also get involved in the peer-review process across journals, grant funders and studentships, and sit on internal and external committees to influence wider research and clinical practice agendas. Whatever your role may involve, you'll need to dedicate a large proportion of your time to reading widely and writing most days, so it's important you enjoy these activities.


National Institute for Health Research

Medical Research Council

Council for Allied Health Professions Research

Wellcome Trust


Working as a senior researcher in rheumatology
Interview: Researcher careers in rheumatology
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