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Your Path in Research: A 'pure' researcher's journey

Your Path in Research: A 'pure' researcher's journey

Dr Rabiya Majeed-Ariss is a Research Associate at Saint Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT). As part of the NIHR’s #YourPathInResearch campaign, Rabiya describes the unique career journey she has followed and the key influences that have helped her along the way in this blog.


Fortune favours the brave, or is it chance favours the prepared mind?

I’m fairly unusual in MFT, in that I am a ‘pure’ researcher, rather than someone with a clinical role who also undertakes research. So, how did I end up working at MFT for the last eight years? Claiming my career trajectory is a masterplan coming to fruition would make for a better story, but the truth is, it’s down to hard graft and good luck!

Having completed my PhD entitled: ‘Understanding the self-management of Type 2 Diabetes in Black and Minority Ethnic Groups’, at the University of Leeds, I moved to Manchester keen to get started in my first post-doctoral project and make a difference. When I applied for this job, the fact that the role was at Manchester Royal Infirmary, which is within one of the most research-active hospital trusts in Europe, had zero bearing on my decision. Looking back seven years on, still a proud MFT employee, the part played by Lady Luck is clear.

The transient life of a contract researcher suited me at the outset. Each research project I was involved with served as an apprenticeship. Each time, I was able to work with a different, brilliant team and have expert supervision when applying various research methodologies. I was dealt a good hand, since every project I worked on was world-class and I was like a sponge absorbing everything; ultimately learning to be more dynamic and independent. The projects brought numerous opportunities and I took advantage of them all: writing small bids, organising and chairing meetings, producing reports, publishing papers, speaking at international conferences and presenting posters.

My post-docs up to that point had been in renal, arthritis and psoriasis. They had seen me continue a nice neat theme from my PhD of long-term physical conditions and self-management. The future lay sparkling ahead of me but then I was delivered a curveball!

Five years ago, I learnt of an opportunity to be the permanent in-house researcher at Saint Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), based in Old Saint Mary’s Hospital. Compared to my previous research, this was a new area of medicine and this was reflected by the volume of existing research in the domain. There were additional complexities, including the overlap with the social care and criminal justice system. And perhaps the biggest change of all – I wouldn’t be part of a research team working on a specific project – I would be the sole researcher without a defined remit.

Being an ambitious, feminist, early career researcher, I rolled the dice and accepted the job. In retrospect rather naïvely. Evidently, this possibility, the unknown, excited more than scared me. With hindsight, I can confidently say, taking this unique role was an excellent decision. It is a privilege to be part of a service committed to offering compassionate and bespoke care to those who may be going through one of the most traumatic and difficult times of their lives.

Saint Mary’s SARC was established in 1986 as a direct response to the then deficiencies in the medico-legal response to rape. It was the first service of its kind in the UK, there are now 47 such centres based on the same model. Saint Mary’s SARC has maintained its pioneering traditions and remains the busiest single site in the UK.

My permanent research contract at SARC has allowed me the opportunity to speculate, to write bids, to collaborate, to lead projects and to develop themes of work. Amongthese, is a theme around access for service users with learning disabilities and/or mental health difficulties. This research has informed the service, tying into the SARC’s values of improving its responses for all.

While there may not be a research team as such within Saint Marys SARC, I value being part of the Saint Mary’s SARC multi-disciplinary team. This team has been pivotal in ensuring the research we do is informed by clinical need, has real world application and addresses gaps in the evidence base. It is incredibly fulfilling to see the impact research, I have been involved with, already has on patient care.

Importantly, I am still able to enjoy the congeniality of a research group in an academic environment. Since my NHS SARC research job is three days a week, on the remaining two days I am able to moonlight as I please. Currently, I am working as a Research Fellow at University of Leeds, on the NIHR project grant considering The Effectiveness of Sexual Assault Referral Centre’s with regard to Mental Health and Substance Use: A National Mixed Method Study.

The main challenge I have experienced as a ‘pure’ researcher in my NHS job is the lacking infrastructure for career progression, this has meant my roles and responsibilities have developed organically to date. My self-motivated nature is demonstrated by the fact 2019 was my most prolific research year to date. Having secured more than £100,000 in research funding for the first time, I have more exciting projects in store. My focus for 2020 is on delivering these bids. And looking further ahead, the goal for 2021 is to apply for an NIHR Advanced Fellowship.


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.