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Your Path in Research: A Greater Manchester surgical trainee's journey

Your Path in Research: A Greater Manchester surgical trainee's journey

Mr Haroon Saeed is part of the NIHR Clinical Research Network, Greater Manchester, specialty group for Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) research. He is a Specialist Surgical Trainee at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.

To coincide with NIHR's #YourPathInResearch campaign running in October 2019, Saeed blogs about how he came to work in research – and the career doors it has opened for him. He writes: 

As busy surgical trainees with training portfolios to maintain, on-calls to navigate and a work-life balance to juggle, we would be forgiven then, for thinking that it’s best to steer clear from adding a complex research project to the mix!

A year ago I would certainly say that I held this viewpoint. With minimal research experience I wasn’t particularly skilled at scientific writing, critical appraisal of papers and certainly didn’t have a strong grasp of stats or how to develop a research project.

Furthermore, I was of the mindset that there is a constant need for career progression, to reach the next rung of the ladder in my training and ultimately becoming a consultant surgeon in the quickest time-frame possible.

It was then that my perception surrounding research changed.

I was in discussions with various seniors as to whether they had any interesting work or topics that I could get involved in. The suggestions didn't particularly resonate with me, or enthuse me to invest time and effort in order to seemingly tick off the box for a first author paper without actually scratching beyond the surface of the clinical or scientific problem at hand.

When I started working at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), I began to witness first-hand how the interface between science, surgery and technology had dramatically come together to provide hearing rehabilitation in the form of cochlear implant surgery.

This sparked an interest for me to search for ways in which I could add to this exciting field, but more importantly do the research justice.

I was lucky to be guided by a supervisor who shared this view point, with a wealth of knowledge developed from undertaking their own research and supervising other post graduate students.

We formulated a research proposal together and I made the decision to take time out of training for research (OOPR). This would afford me the time to do the research justice, while allowing me to continue to maintain my surgical and clinical acumen through the role of a clinical research fellow.

Even at this early stage of my OOPR, I have been surprised by the new experiences and doors that have opened before me, none of which would have been easily accessible without formally perusing a research degree. For example, I have been given the opportunity and time to collaborate and generate ideas with non-clinical individuals of different scientific backgrounds including data analysts and computer scientists.

I’ve enjoyed the challenge of deploying the leadership and team work skills I have developed as a clinician in a different setting, in a different way – the perception that research involves a solitary lifestyle stuck in a lab is outdated. Furthermore, I have embraced the world of computer coding and artificial intelligence, something I wouldn’t have dreamt I would be doing or indeed enjoying 12 months ago.

My anxieties surrounding a lack of research experience were quickly diminished as it became apparent there’s a large pool of supporting networks tailored to your needs, provided by the University and bodies such as the NIHR.

Most importantly, my initial viewpoint of ‘rushing’ towards the role of consultant surgeon has changed.  Yes, my pathway to becoming a consultant surgeon has been lengthened, but it’s plain for me to see that the new research, networking and scientific skillsets I will obtain during my OOPR will provide unique scaffolding for me to become a successful academic surgeon in the long run, with a flourishing research team and portfolio.

I’m therefore glad I chose to get involved in research, as it has opened the door towards such an evolving and exciting career.

To other trainees out there who, like me, are concerned research isn’t for them, I would advise to focus in on an area in your field that’s evolving or still has many scientific uncertainties. Aim to meet leaders in the field who may spark that interest in you and show you potentials for exciting collaborations and partnerships. Ultimately, you will know whether or not to take the bold move into OOPR, so far, I’m certainty glad I did.

The NIHR has launched its new campaign, Your Path in Research, in October 2019. The campaign aims to inspire health care professionals to get more involved in research. Read how here