Academic Development

“Academic development” has been a focus of the Swiss Academy of Young Neurologists (SAYN) since its foundation in October 2014. The SAYN aims to provide information on pursuing an academic career in neurology.

The meaning of academic medicine and how to pursue an academic career will be detailed here. In future, an overview of helpful information, news, funding opportunities, and a platform to call for open research and clinical positions will also be provided. A greater incorporation of research into the Swiss Neurological Curriculum is important for the SAYN.


Academic medicine today

Academic medicine is a poorly defined term that could be described as a branch of medicine pursued by physicians who engage in various scholarly activities. Broadly speaking, academic medicine can be divided into research, teaching, leadership, and clinical activities with a varying workload from individual to individual. Some academics may even choose to abandon their clinical activities.  The individual work facilities, lifelong intellectual stimulation, variety, and autonomy are attractive factors in pursuing an academic career. The opportunity to make discoveries that lead to improvement of health care might be the key motivator.

However, unless you are willing to commit yourself to your career and to put in those extra hours, it may be difficult to succeed. The constant pressure for innovative ideas and the competition for research grants are the backbone of academic work, which can make academic medicine an uncertain and hard business.

Nevertheless, the overall aim of academic medicine to improve health care motivates and strongly influences the decision of many physicians to pursue an academic career. The following table illustrates the most common advantages and disadvantages of an academic career, and an additional article will provide further guidance on the decision whether to consider an academic career or not.




  • “Up to date” knowledge
  • Opportunity to investigate “open questions” or questions raised during clinical work.
  • Find something new: Exciting!
  • Contribute to an improvement/change in medicine
  • Interaction with other researchers (interesting discussions)
  • Opportunities to travel
  • Keeps your brain young
  • Flexibility in research (if mainly research, not clinics)
  • Publish or perish
  • Funding pressure
  • Additional administration
  • Discipline and a high level of frustration tolerance is needed
  • Generally lower income in research than in the clinic
  • Higher workload, if research combined with clinics


Academic career pathway

There is no defined route for pursuing an academic career, and considering several academics ended up in this pathway accidentally, not everything has to be planned. However, as there are some obligatory milestones, to pursue an academic career (good) planning is of advantage.


Medical Studies

Beginning early with research activities is advantageous! Many research groups welcome medical students to integrate them in their research projects.


Master thesis


Since the Bologna reform has been introduced to the medical studies in Switzerland, every medical master student is obligated to perform and write a master thesis. An essential point is to find the matching research group. Therefore, already knowing about the field of interest for the present and for the future is helpful in establishing a common thread of the personal career.

Major criteria when choosing a research group are the supervision, the scientific productivity, knowledge, and techniques that can be acquired as well the future perspectives. The master thesis is usually the first opportunity to provide a scientific contribution, however, do not stop here!


Further Education

Medical doctor (MD)


This degree can be acquired in parallel with studying medicine. Many physicians write a doctoral thesis in order to obtain the doctoral degree without the intention to perform research afterwards. Therefore the quality of a doctoral thesis, as well as the amount of work-input varies a lot. However, when planning to pursue an academic career, performing research in the context of the doctoral thesis provides the cornerstone for a further career and degrees (habilitation). Similarly to the master thesis, the major criteria when choosing a research group are: supervision, scientific productivity, knowledge and techniques that can be acquired, as well as the future perspectives.


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Nowadays performing a Ph.D. has become highly recognized by many academics as entering in such a graduate programme reflects dedication and motivation for research. In general, during a Ph.D. graduation program, which usually takes 3-4 years, besides the research activities itself, the PhD-student has further coursework and training in research methodology for the development of a research scientist. Due to the longer research time at their disposal, projects can be more sophisticated and new useful skills can be acquired. Already a major goal here is to establish a proper field of research. However, for a physician who aims to perform both, research and clinical activities, the decision is not always easy, as the clinical work often has to be abandoned for a long period of time. On the other hand, this can be one of the reasons to perform a Ph.D., as during fulltime (sometimes also part-time) clinical work, performing research can be difficult. In contrast to PhD-programs for non-medicals, many universities offer MD-PhD Dual Degree Trainings, with the possibility to start theoretical courses and research during medical school. Nevertheless, most of the students and physicians who decide to do a Ph.D. will continue with their academic curriculum.


Apart from a Ph.D., several other post gradual educations are widely offered such as Certificate of Advanced Studies (CAS), Diploma of Advanced Studies (DAS), Master of Advanced Studies (MAS), Master of Science (MSc), Master of Health Administration (MHA) etc. Compared to a Ph.D. these are shorter in duration, usually 12 to 24 months.


Olivia Kingston SB. Academic medicine. BMJ careers. 14 May 2008.