I was working as a community mental health nurse when a service re-design meant our team was disbanded. At the same time a secondment was advertised for a research assistant so I applied, because it sounded really interesting, even though I didn’t really know what the job entailed! I went to meet a former nurse working in the department beforehand to find out more, and to ask about her experiences of moving from nursing into research, and I read up on the research the team were doing. Both of these must have helped at the interview as I got the job!
This was the start of a big learning curve for me, but I was lucky to be supported by a great team of people and had access to lots of training. It was also when I realised one of the advantages of working at a university – I felt really supported with my training and career progression in a way that had never been the case before. And there was a proper stationery cupboard so I didn’t have to steal biros from the social work team at the weekend! (Sorry!)
“Having clinical experience of the research topic (self-harm) meant I understood this really well.”
I soon also realised that my nursing experience was a real advantage. I was able to engage other health professionals in the research whilst appreciating their clinical workloads, and ensure the findings were clinically relevant. I’ve realised this expertise is really valued in research as it’s something that isn’t easy to teach someone who hasn’t ever worked in clinical settings.
Ultimately I wanted to do research in my main area of clinical expertise – dementia – so I applied for an NIHR doctoral fellowship to make this move, and I was lucky enough to get it. This was an excellent training and networking opportunity – I got to attend lots of excellent training courses and conferences, giving me lots of opportunities to learn from the best. I got to work with experts in my field, and I got to work on a topic I was really passionate about. As part of the NIHR community, I was also eligible for other funding and so following on from this I undertook a NIHR Clinical Trials Fellowship focused on clinical trials in dementia. And I now work as a research fellow in a Centre for Dementia Research – exactly where I wanted to be!
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. I had two children whilst doing my PhD which meant big gaps and juggling parenthood alongside a part-time PhD, but academic life gave me the freedom to balance both in a way that a clinical career may not. And I’ve had setbacks along the way – most recently I applied for a fellowship I didn’t get, which can feel like a big knock. I’m planning to turn that into a grant application though, so hopefully it turns into another opportunity!