Dr Niall Boyce is the Editor of The Lancet Psychiatry. Niall has been in post since founding the monthly journal in 2014. Prior to his career in publishing, he worked as a psychiatrist.
What are your research interests?
My main research interests are suicide research, service user led research, and qualitative research on the experience of psychosis. That also links in with interests I have in the field of medical humanities.
Please briefly describe your career path?
I started off at a large comprehensive school in Swansea, and I went from there to Pembroke College in Oxford where I studied preclinical medicine. I then did a PhD in Physiology at Kings College London, before returning to Oxford to study Clinical Medicine. I then did my first house jobs which were a mixture of surgery, medicine and general practice. I had been interested in psychiatry for quite a long time; it struck me as being richer and more diverse than any other branch of medicine, and that is what I chose to specialise in. I worked for several years as a trainee psychiatrist in North London, and in 2010 I joined The Lancet as a Senior Editor. After a few years I was given the opportunity to launch a new mental health journal, a sister journal for The Lancet. I started preparing The Lancet Psychiatry in November 2013 and it was launched in June 2014.
Can you tell us about any career highlights/lowlights?
I think if people are honest, the highlights and the lowlights are pretty much evenly distributed. Often there are lots of things that you go for and don’t get, or times when you are not terribly happy with your career, but then if you end up in an OK place, then that tends to get wiped from the record—which I am not sure is very useful for younger researchers. A highlight would definitely be getting the job at The Lancet, and being given the opportunity so quickly to launch a new journal. The other highlight has been working with my deputy editor Joan Marsh, who I have known professionally for over a decade now. She is so experienced in publishing, so well-known in terms of the mental health research community, and she is just an absolute pleasure to work with. Often the highlights are things that don’t appear on CV’s, such as good colleagues.
As for the lowlights, there were points when I was working as a clinician that I found things very difficult: I think that there is a lot of anxiety around being a psychiatrist, particularly because the system that you work in is not very well resourced. You don’t always feel that there is enough back-up in terms of what you would like to offer your patients, and also in terms of supporting you. It can be very unpleasant when you are seeing people in intense distress but are not able to offer them anything, or worse, the concern you might be introducing them to a vast bureaucratic process in which they may get lost. That is not a good feeling at all. Another lowlight probably comes much earlier on when I started medical school at Oxford. I think moving from a comprehensive school to Oxford was an immense leap. In retrospect, if I am honest with myself, I am not sure that I was up to it, certainly not socially. I found it very difficult and my first few years of medical school were very tough. I think I didn’t do as well as I could have done, because I found the change of scene very dramatic.
Advice you give yourself on difficult days/ any key tips for getting through difficult times in academia?
Time and the hour runs through the roughest day. Every situation does end eventually; bad times don’t last forever, and neither do the good times for that matter! But if you stick around enough and you get enough experience, there are very few situations which you won’t at least recognise and very few situations which seem apocalyptically terrible. You also will get more of a sense of what it is that you are interested in and what you like doing. I think in science and medicine careers it can be easy to be swayed into doing things because it is what your department does, or because someone you like and respect says that it is something you should do, but the important thing is to be completely honest about what you are enthusiastic about and not be swayed by what you believe other people will think of you. If you start a course of study about something which you are only mildly interested in, you will possibly hate it by the second year! Even if you start a course of study in something you are desperately enthusiastic about, it can occasionally become tiresome. You just need to be completely honest with yourself about what you like and what you want to do.
What three things do you look for from early career researchers in general/when hiring them?
I tend to hire editors, and people who apply come from clinical and medical backgrounds. The main things I am looking for are genuine engagement and enthusiasm for the specific subject, knowledge of the broader picture, and willingness to learn. I think you are also looking for people, who fundamentally you feel you can work with, so there is a degree of personality as well. But within that it is important to be aware that everyone is different, everyone expresses themselves differently, there are different ways of working and you are going to have to adapt a bit for each other as well.
What is essential to your wellbeing?
The most important thing is to always have your home life. Whether you live on your own, with a family, or have cats—or whether you have some combination of all of the above—it is very important to have a distinct home life and an identity that is separate to work. Even with the best will in the world, not all of us will be able to work our whole lives: other things happen. Family and health things happen, for example, so you have got to have something preserved that is separate to work. It is important to have boundaries. The other thing specifically for me is that i am very interested in cultural history, particularly of the English Renaissance: a totally different area, but which does have some overlap with psychiatry. I think that it helps to have an interest in something that is not your day to day job. It helps you experiment with different ways of thinking about things!
Interviewer: Kirsten Russell (@Kirsten_Russell) is research assistant and a PhD student within the School of Psychological Sciences and Health, University of Strathclyde (firstname.lastname@example.org).