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Case study: Your Path in Research - Thomas's story

We asked Thomas to tell us about his research career so far as part of the Your Path in Research campaign.

Tell us a bit about yourself...

My name is Thomas, I am 24 and I work as a Clinical Trials Coordinator in ophthalmology and non-malignant haematology research at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle.

What were you doing before you became involved in research?

I joined the Staff Bank as an admin assistant straight out of school when I was 16. I worked in various admin roles around the Trust between the ages of 16 and 19 before deciding to pursue a career in research.

What inspired you to become involved in research?

I still had no idea what I wanted to do at the age of 18 in terms of a career and even contemplated if the NHS was right for me at all! After working full-time as a receptionist in the Eye Department for two years, I started to ask around to find out what career development opportunities were available to me as an administrator in the NHS. Without any A-levels or degrees, I felt progression just wasn’t an option for me - although I later came to realise how wrong I was. I began chatting to one of the research nurses in the department, as at the time I knew little to nothing about research, and remember thinking “this seems like something I could get into”, but at the same time thinking “there’s no way I’m smart enough for that”. Nevertheless, I decided to look for administrative jobs within research and landed a Clinical Research Secretary role in paediatrics when I was 19. I worked in that role for almost 3 years and decided to take the next steps in building a career in research. I had amazing support from my team who helped me develop my knowledge and experience to get me to that next level and I was lucky enough to receive my level 3 business and administration diploma through the NHS education scheme. I got a role as a Data Manager in renal and urology research when I was 22, which I worked in for a year before being redeployed to the COVID-19 research team, working on the Oxford vaccine study and many other COVID studies. This was a very intense and fast-paced department, but at the same time one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Earlier this year I left the COVID team after I got a new role in ophthalmology and non-malignant haematology as a Clinical Trials Coordinator, which is where I currently am. Funnily enough, 5 years down the line, I now work with the same research nurse from the Eye Department who originally inspired me to go down this career path.

What do you enjoy most about research?

For me, the best part of research is the ever-changing and expanding environment, with no day ever being the same and never knowing what is around the corner! I find it exciting and rewarding to be directly involved with new innovative technologies and medicines, and knowing that the work I am doing benefits the greater good and patient experience, and could potentially even save lives! I think research is an integral part of healthcare and society as a whole and we need to continue to expand it and spread awareness of it.

What studies have you been involved in?

I have been involved with many different types of studies in various specialties, including Phase 1 – 4 studies of medicinal products, medical devices, therapeutic and observational studies. The specialties I have worked in over the years are paediatric oncology/general, renal, urology, ENT, COVID, ageing, ophthalmology and non-malignant haematology. It has been a great experience to see how research runs in different specialities.

What are your career ambitions?

I am currently looking at what courses/qualifications I can do next to further develop myself within research with the ambition of continuing to climb the ladder. I am also considering looking for a job outside of the NHS in research, for example with a pharmaceutical company or university. There are many opportunities out there and I have plenty of time to decide what my next step is!

Have there been any challenges?

Every day is a challenge! But that’s what I like about it. There will always be something that comes along that you haven’t seen before or have no idea how to resolve, but that’s the fun of it. You’ve just got to get your Sherlock Holmes hat on and get things sorted.

What advice would you give to someone setting out in research?

My advice to someone setting out in research would be to get stuck in! As with everything, you never know if you will enjoy something before you try it and if you are like me and enjoy a challenge, then it’ll be right up your street. If you have ambition to progress, research is also a great option because whether you are clinical staff or admin staff, there is lots of scope to move up the bands, the sky is your limit!