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Report of the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Early Career Researchers meeting 2022

ecr review

The second meeting of the CRN Kent, Surrey and Sussex (CRN KSS) Early Career Researcher group took place on Wednesday 15 June, chaired by Professor Raj Rajkumar, CRN KSS Associate Director for the Development of Early Career Researchers. Some eighty delegates heard from nine speakers.

Review by Kala Ratnajothy, Research Delivery Manager.


Voices of Experience

Professor Tim Chevassut, Director of Academic Training and Professor of Haematology at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, spoke about the Integrated Academic Training programme for doctors. He outlined the training pathway for doctors, where research fits in the pathway, opportunities for doctors and what support and training is available for successful candidates.

Professor Aftab Ala, CRN KSS’ Specialty Lead for Hepatology and Professional Research and Innovation Lead at Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust, took us on his clinical and research career journey, which took him from India to the UK, via the USA. His advice to ECRs was to have clear goals and milestones, and to build collaborative relationships with like minded professionals.

CRN KSS Specialty Lead for Ageing and Senior Lecturer at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Dr Khalid Ali has supervised and mentored several Academic Clinical Fellows, and looked at the relationship between mentor and mentee - comparing the relationship between Tom Cruise and the young pilots in the movie Top Gun Maverick. The mentor is someone who has vested interest in the mentee, both personally and professionally. They should give honest feedback, have empathy and reflective listening, he told the group.

Chris Gedge, Head of Inpatients and Research at Medway Community Health, and CRN KSS Specialty Lead for Stroke, spoke about the trials and tribulations of setting up a training programme and workshops to develop home grown stroke studies. He worked collaboratively with the Applied Research Collaboration Kent, Surrey and Sussex, the Research Design Service South East, and the University of Kent to develop bespoke training, workshops and sandpit events - all of which were, unfortunately scuppered by the pandemic.

Sashi Kommu, CRN KSS Specialty Lead for surgery from East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust, spoke about the innovation centre in the Trust, and his programme of activities to encourage clinicians to participate in portfolio research.

The surgical specialty has clinicians registered on the Associate Principal Investigator (API) scheme, and Mr Kommu described the benefits of the API scheme and the process for registering, concluding with recommendations for the development of early career researchers.


New voices

After hearing from the seasoned academics, the conference heard from four Early Career Researchers (ECRs), who were being supervised and mentored by the senior researchers.

Three were academic clinical fellows, and one is a recipient of CRN KSS Catalyst funding. Their reflections on the support from their mentors and supervisors provided an excellent insight. And take little steps and build relationships with your mentor, they said. Do not neglect the importance of networking with other ECRs.

The ECRs who spoke said they valued the support received from the local research infrastructure, CRN KSSand their Clinical Research Facility. Those on the NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship (ACF) scheme had the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge in statistics, research methodology and Good Clinical Practice through the relevant training programmes.

They also spoke about the challenges they faced on their research journey. The main challenge they identified was having protected time for research, especially in a busy clinical environment. They also highlighted the problems of availability of research support staff, and navigating the research approval process - which they found to be complex and daunting.

Overall the consensus was that the support from their mentor and/or supervisor and the various organisations of the local research infrastructure was invaluable.