Friday, 5 October 2018

Starting out and getting ahead in obesity research

Guest post by Enzo Di Battista, Research Dietitian at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board

In the lead up to the UK Congress of Obesity (#UKCO2018), I attended an Early Career Research Workshop in the beautiful grounds of Newcastle University.

Dr Maria Bryant chaired the event in which we had three talks with some interactive elements.  Here I share a few reflections and tips from the workshop.

Grant application and interview success

Professor Judith Rankin kicked off with ‘Skills to enhance the success of (fellowship) interviews’. The talk was split into three main sections – completing a fellowship application, what to do prior to the interview and what to do during the interview.

On listening to Professor Rankin’s advice on completing a grant application for research, I noted ‘5 tips’:
  1. Start early on the application – you should take about a year to draft, critique, draft, critique, and draft and critique (you get the idea).
  2. Ensure you have a good supervisory team around you for advice and support.
  3. Speak with additional experts in research methods. This might be a statistician or an experienced qualitative/mixed-methods researcher.
  4. Contact senior people in the obesity field. Most are friendly people willing to take a look at draft applications, if given plenty of time to do so.
  5. Liaise with your local clinical trials unit for advice (England), (Scotland), (Wales). 
Getting the application shortlisted is just the first step however, you have to convince funders of your credibility to give you the money. The post-doc fellowship interview is all about YOU, your vision for the research project (not a supervisors) and your commitment to a research career. To ensure you’re ready for interview, Judith stressed the importance of mock interviews. To demonstrate, Dr Bryant stepped up to role play with Judith and we had video interview examples.

To increase the likelihood of success at interview, a panel expects that you have: 
  1. Enthusiasm for your project.
  2. Designed an achievable project.
  3. An understanding of the questions you are trying to address.
  4. An understanding of the experimental approaches you plan to use. 
Influencing health-care policy

Dr Barbara McGowan was next to take to the floor for the second talk titled ‘Conducting research with an aim to influence health-care policy’.  She talked us through her career development, from working in the city as an analyst to becoming a medical doctor and research lead. Her story left the impression that her early work had given her an 'edge', improving her data interpretation skills and had benefited her research career path.

The main take-home for me was the clinical research Barbara was undertaking in pharmacotherapy (therapy using pharmaceutical drugs) for obesity. I summarised it in this tweet at the time:
Semaglutide isn’t licenced in the UK but Barbara feels it will be in the next year or so.

Evaluating public health interventions

Upon returning from a comfort break we settled down to listen to Professor Ashley Adamson, Director of Fuse, talk about‘Evaluating public health interventions’. Ashley highlighted “The value of collaboration” and taking time to develop networks across sectors (industry, public sector, third sector, local government) to establish and maintain public health interventions.

Ashley asked us to form groups and consider how we would implement and evaluate a breakfast club initiative in primary schools. It was a useful exercise to consider what skills (e.g. project management, capacity/network building) and processes (ethics and legalities of working with school children/participant group) were needed for public health interventions and evaluation.

My favourite slide from the talk was entitled ‘An ideal evaluation’ which, as you can see from the picture below has 5 key points, with full references (BRILLIANT!).




























Before closing the workshop, Maria asked for everyone’s opinions on the afternoon and what they would like from future events. On reflection, I felt that maintaining such a high calibre of speakers was key to the quality of the workshop – so that needs to be consistent. Perhaps in future, it would be interesting to hear about emerging subjects within the obesity field and to invite someone who has recently completed a PhD or Post-doc fellowship to share their personal experiences.

If you have any thoughts on what makes for an excellent Early Career Research Workshop please feel free to post a comment below and I can feed it back to the UKCO2019 organising committee. Many thanks!

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