Dr Craig Donaldson joined Plymouth University in February 2013 as Deputy Head of School. Promoted to Head in January 2016, he now oversees a vibrant multidisciplinary community that covers subject areas including biomedicine, human bioscience, clinical physiology, cardiology, and nutrition and fitness. In this interview, he provides an insight into his journey to higher education and how a road traffic accident as a teenager set him on the path to biomedical science.
Q: How has the move to the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry changed your school?
I’d say it was a very good synergy for both our research and teaching. We are the science behind the medicine; biomedical science underpins the understanding of diagnoses and treatments, and provides a very good link to that translation from the bench to the bedside in developing new methodologies and techniques. Being aligned to a medical school has also helped with our recruitment of students, because not only do our students benefit from being part of that interdisciplinary community, but from a recruitment perspective we can offer several incentives that reduce the risk of losing people through adjustment. For example, we now have five places reserved each year where high-performing biomed students can apply to enter either medicine or dentistry at the end of their first year. And our graduates are eligible to apply for entry to the programmes in medicine and dentistry here without doing the UK GAMSAT tests for at least two years post-graduation. This year we had nine students enrol on medicine who had either moved across or had re-applied post-graduation.
Q: What is the attraction of biomedical degrees?
With biomedical sciences, it’s a great way to keep your career options open. You are looking at the science behind the disease and the treatment and diagnosis, so careers in this field are going to be with companies that are developing research, or new treatments and diagnostics, or equipment for the NHS. If students are thinking of becoming a biomedical scientist in the NHS, then the healthcare science is the course we advise them to take because that is the one that has NHS placements. Healthcare science is still a new term and there are some problems nationally recruiting to these courses because people associate it more with nursing rather than with biomedicine or clinical physiology. So we work hard to make that distinction clear at our open and applicant days, and again when our students start their course.
Q: How do you assess the research standing of the school?
Being part of the medical school, and having those close ties with Derriford and the other hospitals, gives us a much stronger research link. And we have some very exciting projects under way. Dr Michael Jarvis’ work with ebolavirus is an area of strong interest; and in infection and immunity, Professor Simon Jackson and Dr Mat Upton are doing some fantastic work on antibiotic resistances and new methodologies. We are very keen on supporting the translation of research into real impact in our hospitals and surgeries, and Professor Neil Avent’s work on non-invasive diagnoses is a great example of that.