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Q&A: South London research investigator Dr Deborah Chinn

As part of the NIHR's Your Path in Research (YPIR) campaign, which aims to highlight how people can make research part of their career, we spoke to Dr Deborah Chinn, a Senior Lecturer at King's College London. Dr Chinn highlights her research passions, career to date, and social care research's importance to society.

What do you do as a research investigator?

Currently, I am leading a research team, which means many opportunities to work creatively with and learn from my fellow research team members and our participants. I am engaged in research networks that link with my interests (such as social care and people with learning disabilities and accessible communications), which are made up of researchers and practitioners. Some exciting new ideas for research projects are coming out of these meetings. I also enjoy writing articles and reports, but I have a worrying backlog of long-overdue writing!

How long have you worked in research?

I trained as a clinical psychologist and worked for many years in community teams for people with learning disabilities. Most of this time, I had little interest in research or confidence in my research skills. My research interest developed about ten years after qualifying. I did a part-time PhD, and with the encouragement of my employers, I started to use my new skills in local service development projects. After that, I began to apply for research funding myself and got a job working part-time at King's College London. Receiving an NIHR post-doctoral fellowship gave my research career a massive boost. I now work part-time in my academic position and the NHS.

Why do you work in research?

I started working in research because I wanted to understand more about issues I encountered in my clinical work. This curiosity has always been a real driver for me, and also to explore and share new and innovative ways we might address complex but necessary issues like promoting self-determination for disabled people. I'm also passionate about ensuring research practitioners work in inclusive ways. Research has allowed me to understand the theories and frameworks that help us make sense of our social worlds and how change can be blocked or promoted in real-life situations.

Why is social care research important, and can you explain the aims of the Feeling at Home research study?

Social care research is vital because so many of us rely on some aspect of social care in our lives - not only care provided by paid staff but care we experience through community groups, friends and families. It is a very under-researched field, yet social care arrangements can make a massive difference in how we experience life, especially for people with higher support needs.

I am currently leading a research project called Feeling at Home, funded by the NIHR's School for Social Care Research. In this project, we focus on a crucial aspect of residential support for people with learning disabilities living together in group homes - how staff can help residents feel at home where they live. We have been finding out from residents with learning disabilities about what allows them to feel at home, where they live and what gets in the way. Our participants take photos of their everyday lives and discuss the images together. We have also talked to family members and residential support staff. We are now working with stakeholders in a co-design group to make some resources available that can help make group homes feel more homely.

What would be your message to non-research active colleagues about why they should consider a career in research and the NIHR?

Try to keep up with the latest research news in your field. You can get alerts from journals that publish the research you are interested in, and you will be inspired and motivated to think of research ideas that you want to pursue based on the work that others are doing. Using other people's work as a model to get started is fine! My learning and engagement in research informs my everyday clinical practice, and it is increasingly appreciated within my practice environment. Social care researchers are usually really keen to collaborate with practitioners and involve them as consultants in advisory groups, so do look out for these opportunities!

The NIHR has launched Link and Learn. Link and Learn is a matchmaking service connecting public health and social care practitioners with researchers in the field. Using this service is an excellent way for anyone new to public health and social care research to gain unique insight, exchange experiences, and ask questions. Sign up as a guide on Mentorloop. Find out more about the YPIR campaign on the NIHR's website.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.