If I had had better career advice, I think my clinical research career would have happened a lot earlier. Instead, it was somewhat of an early thirties crisis. I had been working in libraries since I was sixteen but now I needed a new job. I had always been fascinated by the world of clinical research because of the obvious difference it can make to people’s lives and its comparatively fast pace compared to libraries. I realised quickly that my skills of “organising people and things” would be very relevant, even if my history degree and my librarianship qualification seemed not to be.
It was hard not to be pigeon-holed when applying for jobs, but eventually my former manager (also a humanities graduate) gave me a chance and I worked for four years on a large project identifying patients at risk of deterioration in hospital as part of the Oxford University Critical Care Research Group. It was an amazing learning experience as I learned about every aspect of the research process and became competent at facilitating the work of my colleagues. I was delighted that so many opportunities were given to me to learn: I completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Systematic Reviews which gave me the chance to help my research group with reviews that needed to be written. I assisted with interviews of clinicians using human factors methodology and even visited a hospital to observe the work of a critical care outreach team.
My ultimate goal once I had made my career change was to work in the field of mental health. I have considerable lived experience of mental health which has made me very interested in research relating to it. Last July, I was excited to join the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford to work on a trial of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy for abused and neglected children who are now in permanent foster care or have been adopted.
“Whilst my role involves some obvious research activities – carrying out interviews, involvement in focus groups, writing papers, literature searching – being a project manager involves so much indirect research.”
I might be talking to social workers about recruitment, but I am actually trying to understand how their organisation works in order for our trial to be successful. I might be helping to train our research nurses in how to deliver our assessments, but I am also trying to work out how we can make sure that we get the results that we need. I often self-deprecatingly refer to myself as “just an administrator” but if I am honest with myself, a successful administrator contributes to research as well as enabling it.
Whilst I really enjoy the current project that I am working on, long-term my ambition would be to work on research projects in the field of perinatal mental health as this is where my most recent personal experiences lie. I hope there may be opportunities for me to do this once my current project finishes. I should like to retain the balance of facilitating other people’s research alongside getting involved in it myself; my dream is that there should be more lived experience researchers as I think they can bring so much to the research process.