‘My career path’ talk- April 2016

Hello dearest ECRAG-ers,

This month we were fortunate to have not 1, not 2, but 3 guest speakers! The session was titled ‘my career path’ and was presented by:

It was only natural to ask our group members ‘when you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?’  It quickly came to our attention that the room was filled with aspiring teachers, police officers, vets and the odd power ranger and superhero (wonder woman watch out). We were sure to be on our best behaviour for this session!

Our speakers kindly offered us insight into their career paths and provided valuable words of wisdom.

Laura Jones began the session by covering her journey from Loughborough University to her current position at the University of Birmingham. Laura has always had an interest in research development and worked alongside the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. As post-doctoral funding was running out, Laura decided to study complex interventions and before she knew it was promoted to senior research fellow. As her research interests developed, Laura achieved a lectureship at Birmingham in 2013. Laura described one of the keys to success being grant application. Apply for small grants and look out for areas of interest. For example, smoking is a global public health threat, especially to those without an active choice e.g. exposure to second-hand smoke. Laura’s take home message was:

  • Love what you do
  • Seek support from mentors
  • Aim high with publications
  • Submit and apply for small grants
  • Attend national and international conferences
  • NETWORK: be visible! Get people to know your name by attending events such as ECRAG!
  • Teach

Amanda Farley always wanted to be a policewoman as she felt she was good at telling people off! But in terms of her career pathway, Amanda attended Neuroscience courses and found a placement in France. However, due to an aversion to experimenting on animals, she went on trying a range of different subjects with the aim of staying in research. By 2003, Amanda had secured herself a position as a research associate at Birmingham with Jayne Parry and Johnathan Mathers, amongst other researchers whilst completing her PhD. Amanda has had experience with a range of methodologies (including systematic reviews and qualitative work), opportunities to broaden her skills, and settle into a field she likes and has space for development. A key part of this was keeping an eye out for prospects that became available in her field of interest. Amanda reminded our members that the journey is ongoing and it’s natural to feel like a novice at every step when trying to find your feet.

  • The first aspect is to develop yourself independently: learn different methods and look out for new experiences.
  • Guide and supervise others
  • Design your own projects
  • Apply for small grants: this focuses the mind and alerts you to current research with the potential for collaborations
  • Start to lead on your own: work with PhD students, lead modules, do admin work, present at institute seminars, attend panels, work in data protection, be a part of the MDS (Medical and Dental School) ethics committee, look into your research career
  • And don’t forget: publishing, getting funding, going to conferences and teaching are all key aspects!

Amanda also mentioned key principles for success and happiness:

  • Finding a research area you like and sticking to it
  • Rejection and dead ends are part of the process- accept it
  • Seek opportunities to strengthen your CV
  • Think ahead and be realistic
  • No wo/man is an island- build collaborations, identify strengths and weaknesses as together you can accomplish more
  • Market yourself!
  • Do what’s right for you!

Shamil Haroon spent 3 years as a junior doctor covering different specialities until he was introduced to public health. Shamil went on to apply for a public health training scheme for 5 years, including a master’s course and dissertation, where he met Paymane Adab and Rachel Jordan. Shamil has received grants for working on COPD as part of a larger national trial and completed a PhD as part of an NIHR doctoral fellowship programme. A key aspect of career development was being able to work independently, but also as part of a larger team. Shamil worked on a range of research proposals and sought support from researchers and academics around him at a doctoral and post-doctoral level, whilst developing skills in mixed-methods. Shamil maintained a focus on publishing as much as possible, to the extent that half of his thesis was published before his viva. It is important to be able to transfer skills learnt in one area to another. Shamil has worked on an Ebola outbreak diagnosis-‘how to triage patients?’ Using a similar approach used in designing the COPD models resulting in a publication with the Lancet. As part of being an academic lecturer, Shamil has 4 years of training (doctoral training as a GP and public health). Shamil finds that clinical insights are useful in informing research in primary care.

Shamil’s key pieces of advice include:

  • Identify populations and tailor treatments when thinking of research plans
  • Look for early career and post-doctoral grants
  • Think about branching out
  • The aim is: blue skies research
  • Think about teaching
  • Create a portfolio of research
  • And most importantly: think about good questions and ways to answer them

The session ended with a series of short questions and answers on what the researchers felt were key factors with publications, developing skills, and applying for grants being highlighted.

Finding a niche topic area and developing your methodological abilities are also seen as being essential to personal and professional development.

With a range of talented and experienced researchers such as our guest speakers at ECRAG, the institute of applied health and the University of Birmingham provide ample opportunities to discuss career paths including personal and professional development. All you have to do is…ask.

A very big thank you to our speakers, we look forward to seeing our members at the next session.

Farina Kokab


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