Your path in research: Miriam's Story
Miriam Avery is a Health Education England (HEE)/NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Manchester, hosted by Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH). She has extensive clinical and research experience, first training and working as a mental health nurse; more lately working as a clinical manager and clinical research nurse. Her PhD research is focused on the development of mental health liaison services for young people in England. This is her Your Path in Research story.
I graduated from University of Manchester with a BNurs in Mental Health Nursing in 2013. My degree programme strongly emphasised the importance of research and evidence-based practice in nursing. After qualifying, I started work as a staff nurse at a Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) inpatient unit at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), working with children and young people with a variety of complex mental health issues such as anorexia and psychosis. I found the work extremely rewarding, but I missed the research side of things and in 2014 I gained a place on a Clinical Scholar Scheme back at the University of Manchester. During this time, with encouragement from my supervisor, I investigated creative therapies for young people’s mental health, and published my first paper based on my undergraduate dissertation – a major milestone for anyone interested in a career in research.
I went on to secure an NIHR funded place on the Master of Clinical Research at University of Manchester, while also continuing part time in my CAMHS role. At this time, I felt like I had reached a crossroads and needed to decide whether to pursue a purely clinical career, or a clinical academic career. I took a career break to allow myself time to fully consider my options. Ultimately, I decided research was for me and I came back, completed my Master of Research (MRes), and gained a place on the Pre-Doctoral Clinical Academic Bridging Fellowship, a collaboration between MFT, NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Greater Manchester (ARC-GM) and the Manchester Clinical Academic Centre. This fellowship gave me the opportunity to work on my PhD application, honing my question by working with Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) groups and building my research knowledge.
Following this, I became a clinical research nurse with NIHR Clinical Research Network Greater Manchester, supporting the team there on a whole host of different clinical studies. This gave me the opportunity to learn more about the wider research structure within the NHS and the role that the NIHR play in funding and supporting research and researchers. I’d not long been in this post however when COVID hit in 2020, and I found myself on the Covid research front line – collecting samples in Intensive Therapy Unit and recruiting patients from Covid wards. A bit of a baptism of fire in terms of an introduction to research delivery for a mental health nurse!
It was challenging but rewarding to be involved in these studies, but ultimately my heart lay in mental health research. I moved to GMMH, first as a mental health liaison practitioner, then moving into Research and Innovation as a clinical research nurse. I went on to receive a Greater Manchester Health and Care Research Award in 2022 for Exceptional Research Delivery Leadership for my work on the commercial Biohaven Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) study, a trial investigating the effectiveness of Troriluzole in the treatment of OCD.
In 2022, after lots of hard graft on the application (and an initial rejection in 2020) I was awarded funding by the NIHR to complete my Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Manchester, investigating Paediatric Mental Health Services for Children and Young People.
My top tips for anyone thinking about a clinical academic career are:
- Be brave! Speak to those involved in research (including the professors!) and put yourself out there.
- Find mentors in others who have done it before.
- Grab every opportunity to learn about research – no matter how small, they will all add up.
- Get used to rejection and (constructive) criticism and try not to take it personally. These are the things that will help you reflect on your work and make you a better researcher ultimately.