Research Practitioner at the digital Experimental Cancer Medicine Team (digital ECMT), Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute
Alumni: MRes Experimental Medicine (Cancer)
Dissertation titles: Exploring perceptions and understanding of immunotherapy amongst cancer patients in an experimental medicine setting;
The process of preparing a mixed methodology study of NHS cancer patients for HRA approval and REC committee review
Exploring perceptions and understanding of immunotherapy amongst cancer patients in an experimental medicine setting
Results from the first stage of data collection for the PINPOINT study
Dissertation supervisors: Professor Fiona Thistlethwaite and Michelle Davies
Graduation: December 2019
I joined the Experimental Cancer Medicine Team (ECMT) at The Christie prior to starting an MRes in Experimental Medicine (Cancer) with The University of Manchester. My undergraduate degree was in Sociology, but I became interested in clinical research when my partner was part of a clinical trial for his cancer treatment. I began to think about my role working in market research and realised I wasn’t passionate about that research area. These personal factors led me to a career change and I joined the ECMT as a data manager in October 2017, becoming involved with Phase I research.
The ECMT are a hugely educationally-focused training team. I entered the team knowing nothing about clinical research, other than observations from my personal experience. In changing my career direction, I was aware I would have to start completely from the bottom again as my academic background wasn’t in cancer trials. I knew nothing about cancer research and it was a big decision to start my career again in my mid-to-late-twenties. However, this career change was necessary for me as I felt I really needed to care about what I was doing.
I quickly learnt a lot about trials, but there were still parts of the process that I had no experience in as a data manager, such as clinical trials design. My role at the time was limited to data collection once the trials were up and running and the patients were being recruited. That was a big motivator for me to get involved with the MRes course and learn about the whole process of trials.
The following year, in September 2018, I started on the course in Experimental Medicine (Cancer). It was clear that the MRes would provide me with more experience and knowledge about the span of clinical trials and what they involved. This course is closely tied to ECMT due to Dr Natalie Cook working within ECMT and directing the degree programme.
The structure of the MRes helped me to get a good, comprehensive knowledge of clinical trials quickly and to learn how clinical trials generally work. I think that's a huge advantage of the MRes - it got me to where I wanted to be much faster.
ECMT has a sister team called the digital Experimental Cancer Medicine Team (digital ECMT). This team works closely with the ECMT to develop and manage technology clinical trials, which look to transform the patient role to one of co-researcher and to develop new technologically enabled care pathways at The Christie. The digital ECMT developed a new role for a Research Practitioner who was patient-facing, to help recruit for technology clinical trials and to push these trials forward. I was successful in securing this position about a month after I finished the MRes. This was also something that would be supported by digital ECMT if I wanted to do further study. In this role, I write up results of technology clinical trials, so my position is still closely linked with research.
With digital trials, we provide training for patients once they have been recruited, as we’re sometimes asking them to complete tasks such as taking blood tests at home and reporting the results through an app designed by our team. There is quite a lot of training and education upfront before we send people to participate from home and use this technology remotely. I see myself as a people person and that’s the most rewarding part of my role: working with people, interacting with them and training them to use this technology.
The MRes course involves completing two dissertation projects as well as seminars, lectures and training, with modules about broader academic skills and cancer research. My first dissertation project was on the approval application process for my study, designing a study and going through the REC for HRA . Once this was approved and up and running, my second dissertation was on the results of what I had found from doing the research.
It’s been a bit of a circuitous route for me, but my undergraduate degree feeds into what I do now and the MRes accelerated my career pathway. If I had stayed working in ECMT without completing the MRes, it would have taken me a huge amount of time to gain the knowledge that I gained in just a year on the Master’s degree. The structure of the MRes helped me to get a good, comprehensive knowledge of clinical trials quickly and to learn how clinical trials generally work. I think that’s a huge advantage of the MRes – it got me to where I wanted to be much faster.
Day to day
In a typical week, I now work with patient clinics to contact and identify patients who might be potential trial recruits. For example, for one of our Technology Clinical Trials, I work with a colleague in the Head and Neck Cancer Team at The Christie who initially approaches patients and passes on their information to me (with their permission). I am more likely to have patient details passed to me on certain days because clinics are on a Monday and Thursday. I usually give patients at least a couple of days to consider information regarding the trial, as they are recently diagnosed patients who are coming into their first line of treatment for cancer.
Each week, I may also have appointments set up to provide training to patients who have consented to take part in a trial, preparing them for all aspects of what they might encounter. There are also background administrative duties, such as handling the data and making sure that all the contact with the patients has been annotated properly and complies with hospital procedures and policies.
Hopes for the future
For those who are considering retraining in research, I’d recommend trying to get an introduction to academia – this is something the MRes allows you to do. Whatever you decide to pursue, if you’ve been out of academia for some time you should pick something you’re genuinely interested in and are passionate about. If you’re working full-time as well, there may be a lot of pressure if you choose to retrain but if you’ve chosen an area you genuinely want to move forward in then that’s always going to be a motivation – even when things get stressful!
If you’ve always had that thought in the back of your mind that ‘I’d really like to do this’, then I’ve shown that you can get back into something new – If I can do it, anyone can!