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Is it really worth all the hassle? Insights from two early career researchers

The views here expressed are entirely our own and not those of our employers or those of the funding grants. 

As clinicians, we aim to provide evidence-based, quality healthcare services to our users. Since the beginning of our careers, we have learned to review, learn, and apply the latest knowledge and understanding to help us achieve this goal. Now, we seek to contribute to this evidence by conducting research and are at the start of our careers as researchers  

My name is Blue Pike and I work in community mental health as Senior Recovery Psychological Therapist in the Isle of Wight NHS Trust. This involves working with psychosis, both at the first episode in an Early Intervention Psychosis service, and with people with chronic difficulties in a community mental health rehabilitation team. I provide one to one Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and promote psychologically informed practice by providing training and supervision for individuals and teams. I am also part of the clinical leadership, and work on improvements and research in psychosis and our services.  

And my name is Harriet and I am an Occupational Therapist (OT) working in community adult mental health across Portsmouth. As an OT, I work with people to increase their ability to engage meaningfully with their life roles, community, environment, and daily living activities when this is impaired by their physical or mental health condition. Our team works across adult mental health in Portsmouth and is undergoing lots of new and exciting changes to improve patient care, which gives me an opportunity to volunteer for research opportunities in practice.  

Why are you interested in research?  


As a frontline clinician, I observed that working at a considerable pace, seeing people individually, was doing little to address the increasing demand and capacity issues for psychological therapy in mental health services. I believe that research is a way of utilising time and skills to contribute to the overall development and delivery of treatment - the bigger picture, if you will. This, in my view, is a way to assist more people by potentially playing a role in shaping the evolution of the healthcare system.


Research led me to become an occupational therapist (OT). After serving 9 years in the Royal Navy as a Medical Assistant, I observed gaps in the care of my patients, which I believe OT could fulfill. Despite not being academic, I am genuinely passionate about making a difference, and research has enabled me to communicate my ideas for change. Throughout my career, I encountered instances where I was told 'no, things are done like this' or 'you’re not qualified to have that view,' but research has demonstrated that evidence-based practice relies on solid and ever-changing knowledge. Research, at every level, can assist us in continually adapting and changing to provide better care. I believe that anyone passionate enough can be a researcher, and making positive change simple and accessible to everyone is crucial because every voice matters. 

What are you currently doing? 


I am currently participating in a Mental Health Research Internship with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and NIHR Wessex Applied Research Collaboration which provides supervisors/support from the University of Southampton. This internship runs for six months, and I am currently halfway through. I applied for this opportunity to access support in integrating research into my formal career, recognising that building links and networks with other researchers and organisations is a crucial aspect of research. I have chosen to conduct a systematic review of individual brief interventions for schizophrenia, aligning with my interests and line of work. There is a schedule of training, supervision, and stages of the review to adhere to within the six months, requiring significant effort, but it will all be worthwhile in the end. 



I am also participating in the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Internship, where I am conducting a scoping review to explore all the current research related to my chosen topic. The internship has provided funding for my employer to release me for one day a week, allowing me to focus on this project independently. Additionally, it covers the costs of training, supervision, and attendance at a conference to disseminate my findings. What stood out to me about this internship is its focus on developing me as an individual researcher, not just my research project, which was truly impressive. As I begin to prepare for my next steps, I am hopeful that it will involve pursuing a part-time PhD in clinical practice. The National Institute for Health and Care Research continues to support me in exploring options for this with my employer.


Why become interested in research? 



For anyone interested in research, my advice would be to be tenacious! This quality enables you to access valuable avenues of support, network effectively, and identify suitable learning opportunities. Begin by reaching out and building connections with others, actively seek out opportunities repeatedly. While you may encounter dead ends, persistence will lead you to open doors, and the learning process itself is invaluable. The successes along the way make the journey a truly rewarding experience. 


I would advise not to be discouraged or think you can't do it, as research can be small and manageable and isn't about being an academic. It takes time to get off the ground and may feel like an uphill slog amidst your clinical work at times. However, for every week of patient care, dedicating one day a week to research acts as a springboard for my project. This provides a significant boost that helps me stay motivated during challenging work moments. Creating space for positive change is essential, or we will always find ourselves firefighting for patients. 



Next time: 

We will share about how we navigate the challenges and gain small wins to help us on our journey. 


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