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Nat tells us a bit about her research journey...

Updated: May 5, 2021

How would you describe your research experience?

I am currently undertaking a Research PhD in Cystic Fibrosis. I am working as a Clinical Research Fellow with the Adult and Paediatric CF teams at MFT, and my project is part of a research consortium. We are looking at aspergillus infections in cystic fibrosis, and my main role is setting up the study, recruiting patients, obtaining samples from them, and distributing these samples to the other PhDs based in labs at 6 different universities in the UK. I will be clinically phenotyping these patients to see how/why aspergillus affects them in different ways, and the lab-based students are looking at deeper immune-profiling them and devising new possible treatments.

To make up the other chapters in my thesis I have also applied for a grant to add new data fields regarding aspergillus to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust registry (which annually collects data on all patients with CF in the UK) and will analyse the data gained from this over a 2 year period. I am also undertaking a project looking at the mycobiome of patients who have been started on the new CFTR modulator Trikafta (also known as Keftrio, or “triple therapy”), and will be completing a lab-based project looking at the environmental aspergillus in people’s homes vs the aspergillus they grown in their sputum cultures.

At what stage of your training did you undertake your activity?

I have always wanted to undertake research but due to multiple maternity leave periods, the opportunity had never arisen. However, whilst completing my SPIN in Respiratory, one of the consultants kindly approached me about this project, knowing that I was very keen to become involved in a research project. I was in ST7 and working LTFT. I met with the project supervisors for an “informal” interview to find out more, and then discussed potential OOPR with Guy Makin. He was very supportive, and therefore I applied for the Clinical Research Fellow job when it was advertised by the University, was interviewed and once I was offered the job, completed the OOPR forms.

How did you find the funding/opportunity/supervision?

I was very fortunate in that I was approached by one of my consultants with this opportunity, but it was only through telling them that I was keen. The main part of my PhD had already secured funding, so when I joined the project I just had to assist with the ethics side of things, and then coordinate local set up at each of the patient recruitment sites, and arrange the biobanks and transport of the samples.

For the other projects however I have had to learn how to write grants to apply for funding, or apply to pre-existing research biobanks (like the one at MMU) for approval to use their facilities.

Would you recommend what you did? What would you have done differently?

Absolutely! I’m only 6 months into the project, and don’t think I was quite prepared for how long these things take to set up, but I have learned so much already about how to set up a clinical research project.

What’s your advice for anyone thinking of getting involved in research?

Speak to your consultants! Let them know you are keen and want to get involved in something. They are very happy to help, and many of them have plenty of ideas up their sleeves - they are just looking for volunteers.

Apply early to the university if you are registering for a PhD/Masters. They register in January, April and September, but the process has taken months to go through for me, and until it is registered you cannot access any of their support. Once registered however, they provide a wealth of resources to support you through the PhD/Masters process, from literature searches, statistics and academic writing, to lectures on how to deal with imposter syndrome.

How was your experience different to others do you think?

I have 3 children, and have had to return to full time employment after working LTFT for 6 years, so that has taken some adjustment, however the demands are different in research so although I’m at work in the daytime, unless I have a deadline to submit something, my evenings and weekends are my own again.

Also the start to my research experience has been very disrupted due to COVID. It meant that a few weeks after becoming OOPR I had to return to clinical work to help during the height of the pandemic (all new research activity was stopped and clinical fellows were instructed to return to the wards). COVID has also left a backlog in terms of new research being given ethical approval, and local approval, so has caused delays in getting patients recruited to the study.

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