Thursday 10 October 2019

Top tips for our BRC trainees at ‘Future-proofing your research career’ event

Our current cohort of students were given the opportunity to hear from speakers including the Dean of the NIHR Training Academy, past Newcastle BRC trainees and their peers at an event on 8th October focused on how to future-proof a research career.

The focus of the day was on how to prepare for a career in translational medicine with a range of pathways shared, information about the support and opportunities available to our students here in Newcastle and through the NIHR nationally, and some top tips for making it as a researcher.

Our top takeaways from the day included:

  • “Where does the ten foot dog sleep? Well, wherever he likes!” Prof Dave Jones on being in a position to dictate your own situation post-PhD by making the effort to secure your own funding, reassuring everyone that there are plenty of schemes available to apply to and that it is easier than you might think to apply (but make sure to take out those pesky track change comments from your supervisor before you submit!)
  • “Shy bairns get nowt” – Dr Lauren Walker on taking control of your career and how you are your own best advocate
  • “Beware the Facebook effect” – Dr Ken Baker on feeling anxious/disheartened by the successes of others – few people in an academic or clinical environment will share their disasters and defeats, which will usually outnumber the triumphs two-to-one. Ken was kind enough to give us some examples of things that haven’t gone quite to plan for him!

A recurring theme from all the speakers was around maintaining a work-life balance (or for clinical academics, a work-work-life balance!), so whilst yes, it is important to own your research career and be proactive about pursuing opportunities and new skills or experiences, it is always just as important to invest in family and friends to share your successes and commiserate in your failures.

Hearing from peers, early-career researchers and the more established

Attendees heard from a range of speakers, with advice from Professor David Jones, who as well as being the Newcastle BRC Liver Theme Lead and Professor of Liver Immunology at Newcastle University, is Dean of the NIHR Training Academy, responsible for assisting the organisation with the development of national leadership training and career management for NIHR trainees. The group also heard from two alumni of previous rounds of Newcastle BRC funding, Dr Ken Baker and Dr Lauren Walker, who shared their different experiences of pathways into an academic and clinical-academic role, respectively. Finally, members of our current student cohort shared what they have gained from being able to take up training opportunities offered by the NIHR, from the Doctoral Training Camp (described as being like The Apprentice for scientists!) to the Infrastructure Visiting Speaker Awards and the Adapt and Grow Scheme.

The next generation

Newcastle is the only University and Hospitals Trust partnership outside the ‘golden triangle’ of Oxbridge and London to have been awarded three consecutive rounds of BRC funding from the NIHR (2007-2012, 2012-2017 and 2017-2022 respectively). Training has always been an integral part of our strategy and over the last 15 years we have developed innovative, interdisciplinary opportunities to support novice and experienced researchers who are interested particularly in the health of older people. We are committed to developing research capacity in this field across a range of professional backgrounds, including academic researchers, clinicians and other health professionals.

Professor Avan Sayer, Director of the Newcastle BRC, spoke to the group about how we are now able to demonstrate the impact of this focus on training, by sharing some of the findings from our recent survey of alumni who were part of the two previous Newcastle BRC cohorts. We have learnt that the majority of our Newcastle BRC alumni have continued to pursue an academic or clinical/academic research career with 75% continuing to work in the area of ageing and long-term conditions.

The BRC’s Academic Training Lead, Dr Ellen Tullo, closed the day by asking attendees to consider how the BRC could improve recruitment of researchers interested in ageing and long-term conditions from different undergraduate disciplines, particularly, as well as whether there are other training and skills needs that the current cohort feel should be addressed in future.