Research careers are often meandering. You move from one position to the next, at times by luck as much as judgment. Different universities, different countries, different projects. Great importance is given to this semi-nomadic existence. It certainly has its difficulties, especially as you grow older and add a partner and children into the equation. Yet, it also has its benefits and I recognize that I would not have the job I do today had I not had experiences of these different places, projects and roles.
I’m a methodologist; a job I would not have considered when I first got my PhD in psychopathology back in 2004. I work for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), specifically for the Research Design Service South East (RDS SE). The NIHR does love its acronyms. There are 10 RDSs nationally, each covering a different area of England, and the RDS SE covers the counties of Sussex, Surrey and Kent.
I don’t mean for this blog to turn into an advertisement for the NIHR or RDS, but the service we offer is, in my experience at least, unique. We help researchers turn their research ideas into projects capable of competing for NIHR funding. You come to us with an idea to improve patient care and we help you to formulate a research question, plan a study to address that question and write an application to get the work funded.
Many of the researchers I meet are surprised at just how much support we offer. It’s not just the mechanics of bid writing, although we do that too, but also advice in study design, statistics, health economics, patient and public involvement (PPI; another great NIHR acronym), amongst others. I have friends who work in different disciplines who would love to access the kind of help the RDS offers, but nothing that I know of like this service exists outside of the structure of the NIHR.
I love planning studies and considering the best design to address each research question. It’s a challenge to design something that satisfies as a robust, academic experiment and also as a practical, clinical piece of work applicable to patients in the NHS. I also relish being able to work with a wide range of people – each an expert in their field, but who share the commitment to improving the care they can give their patients. It’s a privilege to help them achieve this aim in some small way.
I’m fortunate that my particular winding path has led me here. Hopefully, from time to time, I can help others who are taking the next steps of their own.