I was completing my PhD part-time and working as a social worker when I applied for a job as an alcohol health worker with the university. The role was to deliver brief alcohol interventions on the SIPS trials (a large pragmatic randomised control trial) which examined the effectiveness of brief interventions to reduce risky drinking in adults within AED, GP practices and the Probation Service. I was keen to learn from being within a research environment so I took the jump, leaving a permanent role in social work to take up a 12 month contract. I have never looked back.
“Being in a vibrant research environment and working under the supervision of others enabled me to develop the necessary research skills to transition from a practitioner who delivered the experimental intervention to being a researcher examining intervention effect.”
Within the university, I was supported to learn about research, first on the SIPS trials then on other projects as the research group I joined won further funding. Whilst I gained much from these experiences, I wanted to do more than deliver upon projects; I wanted to drive my own research work. I therefore applied for and was awarded a NIHR post-doctoral fellowship. My fellowship has been integral in bridging my previous social work career with my research, building upon my strengths in a way that I could progress to grow my own programme of work that is focused upon my professional commitment to supporting vulnerable children and families.
Since commencing my fellowship in 2015 I have won multiple research grants, leading projects focused upon the topics I feel passionate about. Leading research requires ambition and drive as well as research skill and I have been fortunate to be mentored within my career by internationally recognised research leaders – collaborative relationships I continue to benefit from and which I consider to be crucial to my future success. My increasing independence has afforded me with the opportunity to support others to develop their research careers and I hope to provide the mentoring relationship I myself have greatly benefitted from.
I now have a growing team of researchers, many of whom also have a background in social care practice. I was also recently appointed by North East and North Cumbria Clinical Research Network as the Associate Lead for Social Care Research. Part of my responsibility within this role is to supervise two social care research interns – qualified social workers who are being released from their practice for half of their working week to become embedded in a research team and learn research skills from hands-on, supported involved in social care research projects. It’s very satisfying to support others to develop their careers whilst also leading my own research programme. In doing so, I feel that my motivations for research are now entirely congruent with the motivations that drove me to commence a career in social work. That is, to improve social care practice for the benefit of the people who access social care services.