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This year’s Council of Medical Academic Representatives (COMAR) being held at BMA House on 29 March will generate great interest and hopefully stimulate vigorous discussion and debate.
It has been a tumultuous year for medical academia. As I write this, we are on the eve of a momentous decision in the House of Commons which could see the uncertainty about the future of British Science grow further. We will see the medical student body grow by 1500 students. At the same time, as we edge towards 29 March, the future of our EU colleagues working within the UK becomes ever more insecure.
As we leave behind the certainty of EU collaboration, and with it, the freedom of movement throughout the EU that we have become used to, where will medical science and education be delivered? The large institutes that have been built with the enthusiasm of collaboration may stand redundant on the campuses that they were meant to serve. Already, large buildings built with acres of bench space see labs eerily empty as researchers jostle for space for their computers in the overcrowded offices; spilling out into public spaces, cafeterias and conference rooms.
The future of science is changing. With more focus on international collaboration, modelling and redefining paradigms, the old “bench science” is no longer the largest area of research. Field work, going out to real patients, and transitional research are becoming increasingly important. Teaching takes place less commonly in lecture theatres and more frequently virtually: in online learning environments, in community placements or on a computer in a coffee shop. Medical research and education of the future will need a new set of skills and the flexibility to happen in a variety of settings and situations.
This year, we are exploring the work and careers of academics who are already working outside the traditional university setting. Research can take place anywhere and we will see how pioneering surgery can be trialled in the most hostile of conditions. We will hear how the future of virtual collaboration is shaping up and how the old water cooler may now be an online discussion space, a Skype conference or perhaps take place via virtual reality hardware. Even publishing is changing, with researchers going directly to their communities with Twitter, using GoFundMe to help with expenses and funding bodies investing in their online presence and social media.
However the future shapes up, it is clear that to solve the complex problems we face, science and education must take place across physical boundaries. It is also clear that rigorous standards and protection of intellectual property, probity and protection of students’ and faculty employment rights must be a priority in this new world.
Attending the conference gives you an opportunity to have a role in shaping the future by standing for a place on academic medicine’s voice within the BMA, the medical academic staff committee and I would strongly urge you to stand for this very rewarding committee. It is the most inclusive, diverse and open committee within the BMA and (although I speak as a prejudiced member!) the most interesting in the breadth of its work, which involves not only employment rights of medical academics and educators, but also commenting on and shaping policy, responding to consultations, working closely with our academic trainees committee to secure the future of our early-stage researchers and supporting the work of the Women in Academic Medicine Group to enhance the position of women in academic medicine.
Registration is going briskly. You do not have to be a BMA member to attend. You are also welcome and encouraged to submit motions on issues of importance for BMA policy. registration can be found here
I look forward to sharing ideas with you all that will shape our futures and to hear how you are all pushing traditional boundaries within your own careers. On the day that the UK is due to leave the European Union we will do our best to look positively to the future.
Conference of Medical Academic Representatives