I did a degree in psychology and physiology at Oxford University from 1997-2000, so my academic background is in psychology. I worked for a year as a research assistant in the psychology department at University College London before taking a break from academia and living in Paris for three years.
While there, I taught English as a foreign language, before I got a job in medical research, where I was a medical writer in a company that did clinical trials for cancer drugs. I soon realised that if I was going to have a career in medical research I would need a PhD. I came back to England in 2004 and started my PhD in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, funded by the Medical Research Council.
My PhD was on birth trauma, understanding risk factors for women developing post-traumatic stress disorder after a traumatic childbirth, with Prof Susan Ayers (now at City University). After my PhD I worked as a research statistician in psychiatric epidemiology at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. As my PhD had been quite stats-focused, I was able to make the transition into epidemiology, which looks at the distribution and determinants of disease across the population.
My first role at BSMS was in the Psychosocial Oncology group with Prof Dame Lesley Fallowfield and her team, now known as SHORE-C. After a year there I started working as a part-time research fellow in Primary Care Epidemiology with Prof Jackie Cassell. And then in October 2016, I started an additional two days a week as a lecturer in research methods, helping with module 404, the individual research project (IRP).
I always wanted a career in academia and within the medical school as I enjoyed contributing to research methods teaching. When the role came up to support module 404 it felt like the perfect fit. Due to my background in psychology, which has a broad range of research methods, I enjoy teaching anything from qualitative research, to statistical modelling, to systematic reviews. I find troubleshooting research problems with the IRP students is challenging but also enjoyable and rewarding.
I am currently working on a research project which aims to tackle the diagnosis gap for dementia in primary care. When we started looking at the problem, around 60% of people with dementia were given a diagnosis by their GP. One could argue whether a diagnosis is beneficial or not, and that's part of the research we are doing, but the government and the NHS currently feel that it would be good for everyone to have a timely diagnosis of dementia. This doesn't mean it has to be an early diagnosis, but that it comes at the right time for that patient and before a potential crisis might occur. As a result, I am tackling this project from two different domains; health psychology and astrophysics, so it's quite broad-ranging.
When you start writing up your PhD, you don't think it will take you 10 years to get a lectureship. But I am almost there now, and in this time I have had two kids and worked part-time too. Looking back, if I were to give myself any advice it would be to hang in there and keep going! You also need to love writing. In academia, if you haven't written about it and had it published, it doesn't exist. Making personal relationships is vital, in my opinion. The best collaborations start by sitting down and having a coffee with someone and getting to know them personally. Whether that's a senior person in your team or somebody on your level in a different institution, or a junior colleague, having personal relationships makes it easier to build successful collaborations.
Sometimes it feels like I have a massive cooker with 20 pots and pans on it, and they are all about to boil over but I need to ensure they keep simmering. I usually have five research projects on the go at various stages, as well as teaching, supervision, admin reviewing and writing references. Everyday I write a new to-do list, so the biggest challenge is keeping on top of the diversity of the role. But I wouldn't change anything about my job as I love the challenges it brings.
I find that it's really valuable when you come across medical students who have done something else beforehand. For example, they might have an economics degree or a background in history or philosophy, so they can bring some interesting perspectives into what you¹re trying to teach them. It really enriches the experience for me and helps us all to think about the bigger picture of medicine.
Getting my first grant from the Wellcome Trust was probably my proudest moment in my career so far. I had applied for a quite a few grants before that and had been unsuccessful, so this was a big moment for me. I probably need to get another, bigger grant now, however, purely to prove that it wasn't a one off!