The EPIC model: Explore

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 12.48.05The focus of todays post is on the first component of the EPIC model for emergent health researchers:

Explore to develop and increase your understanding of the health research community.

What does this mean? The Oxford English Dictionary defines explore as, to travel through an unfamiliar area to learn about it which is an apt definition for exploring the world of health research. For most healthcare professionals this world presents an unfamiliar landscape. One which may have been encountered briefly during undergraduate study but even that brief sojourn was more likely to have been into the world of academic research, an important part of the landscape but not the whole picture.

The world of health research is rich and multifaceted and it is appropriate that entry into this world starts with a process of exploration, a time to venture into different areas, have a look around, get lost and find yourself. This kind of purposeful wandering will help to increase your knowledge and understanding of all of the different parts of the community, how they interface and connect. You will start to identify specific aspects and communities which are of more interest to you, those which resonate and are aligned to your values and it will require you to start wearing the mantle of someone interested in research.

If you are wondering if this is necessary here are some questions to ponder. At an organisation level:

  • How much do you know about the research community within your organisation?
  • Who is your Director of Research and your Research and Development manager and what do they do?
  • What are the research strengths of your organisation
  • What funding is available within your organisation to support research capability building?
  • What is in your organisations research strategy, does it have one?

Looking at the wider community

  • What are the research strengths of your local Universities?
  • Do you have a CLAHRC in your area and if so what are the opportunities for linking in with its work
  • Do you have an Academic Health Science Network what does it do?
  • What seminars are being held over the coming 6 months that you could attend?
  • What do you know about the work of the medical research charities relevant to your area of practice?
  • What does your professional body do to support research

I could go on but hopefully you get the gist.

Why is exploration important to emergent health researchers? To answer this question I’m going to draw upon the Researcher Development Framework (RDF), which, as I mentioned in the previous post, identifies the knowledge, attributes and behaviours of successful researchers. Whilst the RDF is aimed at researchers at doctoral level and beyond it is possible to map the process of exploration onto the framework to give you some idea of the knowledge, attributes and behaviours you will start to develop and acquire through the process of exploration.

The reason I’m doing this is to enable you to see their alignment with that of developing as a researcher, it is not just about methods, study design and data analysis. To remind you the framework is divided into 4 domains and each domain has 3 sub-domains, (the titles at the top of each column).

1.Knowledge and intellectual abilities

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2.Personal effectiveness

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3.Research Governance and organisation

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4.Engagement influence and impact

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So as you can see from the above you can start developing relevant skills and expertise at a very early stage in your research journey by getting to understand the workings of the community you are wanting to join, asking questions about how it works, what drives it and finding out about opportunities to engage with it.

How will it help you? Increasing your knowledge and understanding of the research community, its stakeholders and the things which drive it will become your launchpad for greater engagement. It will support you in championing research within your team and it will place you in a stronger position when applying for competitive bursaries and fellowships. For example you may consider applying for a Health Education England Internship, an NIHR funded place on a Masters in Clinical Research or funding from a medical research charity to support academic fees. What will make your application stand out?

In the section which asks why you are making the application you will be able to write it with reference to your organisations research strategy and explain how the skills you will develop will support delivery of the strategy. You might be able to say that you are actively involved in a research special interest group you have joined or that you have attended Trust research events.

If you are shortlisted for interview you will be able to demonstrates your enthusiasm for research. As an emergent researcher you may not be able to provide evidence of presentations or publications on your CV but what if you were able to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of your research community, evidence of attending seminars, webinars or workshops? You suddenly have something to talk about in the interview.

So there we go, an introduction to Explore. In the next post I will expand upon this by looking at some of the specific things you can do as an explorer in this area of your research development.

Explore: moving forward into action

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 12.48.05By the time you read this post I hope that you have bought into the idea of what it means, within the context of the EPIC model, to Explore and how this will contribute to your development as an emergent researcher.

Exploration in this context is not an onerous process but does require you to set out with a sense of adventure and an open and inquiring mind. It is a brilliant activity for emergent researchers to engage in because as you develop on your research journey the time available for exploration will become more limited.

 

Think of this as a funneling exercise – start exploring broadly and over time you will understand the connections and networks within the community and identify those of greater interest and relevance enabling you to become more focused.

Your equipment requirements are minimal, access to a smart phone, tablet or computer. The time requirement is flexible. It can be as little as 10-15 minutes on your chosen technology over a cup of coffee or up to an hour to have a conversation. It also doesn’t need to be a solitary activity. If you colleagues are interested in research share the journey and knowledge you glean.

Be courageous. Exploring on the internet, for most of us, presents minimal challenge but when you are required to have conversations with people about research this can be more challenging especially when you are starting out. All kinds of self-doubt can creep in such as, ‘will I say something stupid’ or ‘who am I to ask to meet this leading researcher’. But you know what, people will love your enthusiasm and commitment and generally researchers love talking about research. If you are truly aspirational about becoming more involved in research at some point you will need to step into this space.

Get organised. Develop an approach to organising the information you discover. Talk to any researcher and they will recount stories about finding the most amazing article only to be unable to locate it when it was needed. It may be a paper based portfolio or one of the many online tools. A while ago I was introduced to Pocket and Evernote both of which I now use to keep track of information I discover online, organise and share it.

Use social media. Social media is a great way of not only exploring but also, once you have identified key organisations, or individuals, keeping your finger on the pulse of what is happening.

So where do you start?

Start close to home. How much do you know about the research community within your organisation? Who are the key people driving the research agenda, what are the roles of different members of the R&D team and how can they support you and vica versa. What research seminars or workshops are held? Are there funds you could apply for to support your development? Does your organisation have a research strategy and if so what is in it?

How long is it since you have been into your organisations’ library if it has one? A wealth of knowledge and expertise resides in clinical librarians which, from my experience, is under utilised by healthcare professionals.

How much do you know about the research being undertaken within your clinical team? Have you ever talked with the people involved in research, whether it is someone conducting a clinical trial or a colleague completing a project as part of a masters programme, about what they are doing, how and why they are doing it and what they are finding out?

Academic communities. Who is researching in your area of interest in your local Universities? Explore their websites and look beyond faculties of health and into areas such as design and technology, IT, management, and arts based faculties.

Professional communities. My professional body, the College of Occupational Therapists, offer a range of resources to support OTs with an interest in research including a fortnightly research and development bulletin, funding opportunities via the UK Occupational Therapy Research Foundation, access to an ever-expanding range of ebooks and journals. What does your offer?

The wider research community. All of the major medical research charities outline the scope of their funding, their research strategies and priorities and information for researchers on their websites. Funding opportunities for individuals will range from small travel bursaries and academic fees to awards for doctoral and post-doctoral level study. Get to know the relevant medical research charities for your area of interest. These are invaluable links to develop.

All of the above are just suggestions and I’m sure you will have many of your own.

Exploration will enable you to develop a sense of the research community and how it functions, different parts of its infrastructure and their key agendas and priorities. I guarantee that you will be surprised by what you find and the opportunities and resources which are open to you if you make the effort to venture out. There is no such thing as a closet researcher so time to step out and start exploring.

Becoming a health researcher

DSCN1865Last weeks launch of applications for the HEE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme fellowships for ‘non-medical healthcare professionals’ has led me to reflect on the watershed moment that moves someone from thinking about ‘doing research’ to taking the first step on the journey of ‘becoming a researcher’.

It may be a tentative step taken with a bit of a wobble, it may be taken with confidence or it may be a leap full of energy and power but irrespective of the nature of the step it is, never the less, a big step. Submitting an application for a funded fellowship, having a discussion with a line manager about embarking upon a Masters programme or making an appointment to meet with someone to talk about embarking upon a PhD each is the start of a new journey.

If you are a researcher can you remember what sparked that moment for you? Possibly a combination of things: hearing an inspirational talk; the realisation that the only way to try to answer the burning question arising from your practice was to explore it yourself; meeting someone who took the time to listen to what you had to say and instilled in you the confidence to move forward; meeting someone who challenged you to do better. At some point something inside you will have demanded attention and moved you to action. Even though it was some time ago I can still remember the physicality of that moment, a sense of excitement, the quickening of the heart and a connection with something inside of me that was important.

Over the course of a year I meet many clinicians aspiring to become researchers and am involved in many discussions with people wanting to find out more about opportunities to get involved in research. Such conversations focus often on practicalities and processes, how do I find funding, how will I make time, who do I need to talk to? But less frequently do I hear the personal values and aspirations that are being honoured.

Recently I have had the opportunity to work more closely colleagues working from a coaching perspective and have become a trained coach myself. This has opened a different lens for me, the lens of what it means to ‘be’ rather than to ‘do’. This is a lens that I will continue to explore in my writing but in this post I want to focus on those very early steps at the start of a journey.

As someone who has supervised research students if I think about what genuinely ignites excitement in me when meet them for the first time it isn’t just their idea or topic, which is highly likely to change and evolve anyway. What really draws me is the enthusiasm they bring to the conversation, their aspirations and the values they communicate in what they say.

In the workshops we run we have had great fun working with early career researchers from this perspective, really challenging them to connect with their values around research, why it is important to them and their aspirations. These are very different conversations which take people to a deeper level of discovery about themselves.

So if you are about to take the first step in your research journey my suggestion is to do some work around what it means for you to ‘be’ a researcher, why it is important to you and what values you are honouring. This is the fire that keeps researchers alive and carries us through the tough times so it is great to connect with it, explore it and understand it.