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Getting into trials research: a summer student’s experience

By: Holly McGrath, Dept. of Epidemiology & Public Health, University College Cork.

I heard about the HRB-TMRN Summer Scholarship from research staff in the School of Public Health in UCC. There is a career development aspect to the BSc in Public Health, and I had expressed to the lecturers that I had an interest in a career in research. While I know I want to pursue a career in public health research, I always give a different answer when asked what my research interests are: health services, clinical trials, population health, research communication, environmental epidemiology… everything is just so interesting! So when my supervisor, Dr. Sheena McHugh, approached me about taking part in a HRB-TMRN Summer Scholarship I was delighted to prepare an application.

The project I was to undertake was part of a feasibility trial of an intervention to improve diabetic retinopathy screening in Ireland. Patient and Public Involvement is an important aspect of this study, and my project was to investigate recruitment methods for PPI partners. The first step: a scoping review of the existing literature! This was a really useful exercise, and I learned so much about the systematic approach to a literature review. Based on the initial findings of this review, I worked with other members of the research team to decide what methods we would use to recruit PPI partners to the study. Drawing on my background in graphic design, I prepared a flyer that was distributed online via social media as well as printed and handed out in key areas. I also prepared the questionnaire that we would ask those who volunteered to take part to complete, to find out which method recruited the most people, with the most diverse demographic profile. I presented the findings of this review and survey in a poster format at the HRB-TMRN Trials Methodology Symposium in October.

All this was always going to be a challenge to complete during the eight weeks, and I discovered that there are so many things that can delay the progress of a research project: turns out that trying arrange a recruitment campaign in the middle of the summer holidays has its challenges! However, I learned a lot about the research process, and had the chance to develop skills that I will take forward. I also had the chance to challenge myself by putting the theory of social research methods we covered in my degree course into practice, and I appreciated the chance to engage in qualitative research methods. My supervisor and members of the research team were so generous with their time, and wonderfully supportive of my learning, I really appreciated the help they gave me over the 8 weeks. Having the chance to attend the HRB-TMRN Trial Methodology Symposium was a highlight for me – the speakers were excellent and inspiring, and it was a brilliant chance to meet my fellow summer students and pick the brains of people who are working in the area of clinical trials.

If you’re considering a career in research I would whole-heartedly recommend applying for the HRB-TMRN Summer Scholarship. It was an excellent opportunity to see how I would fit into a research role and confirmed for me that clinical trials is an area I wish to pursue – everything is still too interesting to choose one aspect though!

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