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Dr Lauren Walker

Career pathway of an Early Career Researcher

I completed my NIHR BRU/BRC funded PhD in 2016, and I am currently a postdoc funded by the Alzheimer’s Society to continue my research investigating the effects of multiple pathological lesions on clinical phenotype in neurodegenerative disorders (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body disease). Using a quantitative clinico-pathological approach, we aim to tease is distinct clinico-pathological phenotypes which may ultimately lead to tailored treatment options for patients. During my PhD I took advantage of the numerous training and mentoring opportunities offered by the NIHR BRU/BRC, which has given me the skill-set and confidence to pursue a career in dementia research.

The building blocks of successful research career

Establishing an independent research career can be a daunting prospect. In addition to research activities, early career scientists are expected to be able to communicate their (often complex) data to the scientific community as well as the wider population, show leadership qualities, and demonstrate the potential to develop productive collaborations. Through activities provided by the NIHR BRU/BRC I feel I am starting to build a toolbox of skills that will help me to become a successful researcher. At the NIHR Infrastructure training camp, I was tasked with communicating an unknown piece of research to different target audiences, whilst the NIHR BRU/BRC showcases gave me the opportunity to present my own research locally and nationally whilst networking with other researchers in a similar field. Furthermore, the training event on writing for the lay audience has been extremely valuable as I start to apply for my own grant funding, as many of the applications have a lay component.

Current research activities

My overarching research aims are to investigate how multiple pathological lesions found in different neurodegenerative diseases that cause dementia, can appear together and potentially interact in the human brain, and how this impacts on the clinical symptoms and disease progression of individuals with dementia. My research mainly involves post-mortem brain tissue donated to Newcastle Brain Tissue Resource, immunohistochemical and biochemical techniques, sophisticated microscopy, and clinical data to study putative relationships between pathological protein aggregates.  Through data generated in my PhD studies, I contributed to a successful grant application to further investigate the role of several protein post-translational modifications in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. In parallel, I have applied to several funding schemes (some independently and others in collaboration with other junior scientists in my group) for small grants that have allowed us to perform experiments to generate pilot data that can be used in larger funding applications. I have found this experience invaluable as it has given me an understanding of the grant writing process in preparation for my own plans for writing larger grants.

Following the completion of my current post-doctoral project I am planning to apply for my own funding in the form of junior fellowship programs. As one of my priorities is to continue my personal and professional development, I will target external funding bodies that offer a training and support plan (NIHR fellowship scheme, and Alzheimer’s Society Junior fellowship etc.)  that will aid my transition to an independent researcher.