Self-Care Tips to Keep You Sane: Active Hobbies

Last January I wrote about the importance of academic self-care for PhD students; I didn’t delve too far into the specifics of what I do in my downtime and a lot of people asked. ‘It’s hard to switch off’ and ‘I find it hard to relax’ were the two phrases I encountered most frequently, so I began a series of posts to provide more information and recommendations on what to do to force yourself to relax. Other posts in this series cover podcasts, reading for pleasure, and I’ve discussed the importance of having a creative outlet too.

This is the third installment in this ‘self-care tips to keep you sane’ series, and this week I’m talking about being active. At the beginning of a new year everyone it’s difficult to avoid talk of diets and fitness, and gym memberships are suddenly used for the first time in months. That whole ‘new year, new me’ thing is not what I’m about, what I’m talking about here is finding hobbies that you enjoy, and that actively get you away from your desk and demand that you concentrate on something other than your PhD. The enjoyment bit is crucial – work to try and find an active hobby that you really look forward to, and your mental health will thank you for it, particularly during deadline season when you’ve been sat at your desk for longer than usual.

In this post I wanted to give you an idea of the active hobbies that I’ve started and maintained over the course of my PhD.

Hot yoga

Winter Solstice candlelit yoga a few weeks ago.

If you’d told me 5 years ago that hot yoga would be something I look forward to every week, I’d have laughed in your face. Really though, this has become a central part of my routine, and I notice the difference in my productivity and motivation if I skip a week. For those of you that don’t know what hot yoga is, it’s basically yoga (I go to a vinyasa flow class) that’s in a room heated to 30-35 degrees Celsius. It’s hot. It’s particularly hot when contrasted with an Aberdonian winter. I’ve been going to Hot Yoga Aberdeen for about 18 months now, and I’m so excited to get back to it after the New Year break!

Kettlebells

This is a new one for me. I’ve done kettlebell classes through various gym memberships before, but never anything so focussed on technique and form. I have a gym membership but dread going because it’s really busy, and often the equipment I want to use is full. I’ve been looking for an alternative for a few months now, and earlier this week I found it – Kettlebells Aberdeen.

The Kettlebells Aberdeen studio.

KBA is a small, local gym focussing on kettlebell handling and training. I went along for a beginners workshop (which you need to attend before joining), and the owner, Ray, talked me through the benefits of kettlebell training, as well as showing me various lifts, and then correcting form etc when I gave them a go myself. I was there for 2 hours in total, and got a really detailed overview of the training structure that they use; I loved it. I’m going to ditch my traditional (and expensive!) gym membership in favour of regular training here, and I’m really excited to get started.

Walking

This sounds like a total cop out, but taking time out for walking is the one thing I make sure I do every day – no matter how busy I am. I walk the 1.5 miles to and from work most days and even though it’s not a huge distance, it sets up me for the day. It means I arrive at work ready to get started with a clear head. If I’m having a particularly stressful day I’ll try and make time for 15 or 20 minutes away from my desk to go for a wander too. I think this is a really important point for people that don’t live super close to their workplace and have to commute via public transport or by car – take half an hour out to go for a wander on your lunch break, it will change your mindset and make you feel much less stressed. If you don’t fancy walking about it silence, check out my podcast picks!

A few other ideas that you could look out for; Crossfit (I’ve never tried it but Lisa from In A Science World is a big fan!), home workouts (not really my thing but Andrea from PhD Fashionista is really into them), running, weightlifting, swimming, trampolining…
There are so many activities that you can get involved with during your PhD – look out for societies, local gyms etc, and really try to build some sort of active hobby into your routine. I’ve found the PhD a great time to try new hobbies because it also helps to refocus your mind on learning something with a quicker win than the PhD usually offers. It will not only help your physical health, but it’ll support your mental health too.

Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018

At the beginning of 2017 when I first started this little blog, I published a post on my goals for this year. Now we’re in that weird time period between Christmas and New Year, so I thought I’d reflect on what progress I made with those goals, and then set some new ones for 2018.

Reflecting on 2017

2017 goal: Begin piecing together the thesis
How did I do? I’m pretty happy with this one, and with 6 months to go until I hand in I’m not feeling tooooo terrified. I attended my first writing retreat and finished a full first draft of my systematic review chapter (currently sitting at over 30,000 words), which is a really nice foundation to work from – much better than beginning to tackle the thesis with a blank page in front of me. I’ll go into more depth about where I am with my thesis in a post over the next few weeks, so there will be more details there. Overall though, I’m feeling relatively happy with the progress in made in 2017.

2017 goal: Read more widely, and more frequently
How did I do?
This year I have been doing the #365papers project – reading a paper every day (on average) for a year. I did a decent job with this, but let my reading slip in December meaning I haven’t finished the challenge. In previous years, I’d have forced myself to finish the project and completed the whole thing, but this year I just don’t want to. I’ve taken a proper break over Christmas – I don’t go back to work until January 9th, and I haven’t opened my laptop for anything work related since I left the office on December 22nd. Over the next few weeks whilst I’m off I’ll  start getting myself organised for going back, but I’m not going to force myself to spend my Christmas break reading papers. I kept up with the project until the end of November which was pretty good though! Outside of academic reading, I’ve read 52 books this year – a mix of non-fiction and fiction, and I think that’s helped with my writing too.

2017 goal: Seek out opportunities to publish
How did I do? One thing I’ve learned this year is that publishing takes AGES. Really, it takes a very long time. This year I’ve been involved in lots of different projects that will give me publications, but it looks like they’re all going to come in a bundle in 2018. To be honest, that’s no bad thing – I’m really excited to see them coming out, and I feel like lots of hard work on this goal has paid off.

New goals for 2018
Rowena Murray’s ‘How to Write a Thesis’ – a book that I’ll be carrying everywhere with me for the next few months!

Finish the thesis, become Dr Gardner
This one’s obvious – it’s the biggest and most important goal of 2018! I am aiming to hand in my thesis on June 30th 2018. So far I think I’m on track to meet that date, but there’s a lot of work to be done over the next few months to make sure that things work out.

Secure funding for after the PhD
This is the goal that I’m most terrified about. Academia is a competitive game, and I want to stay in health services research after my PhD is complete – this means finding funding. Keeping all of my fingers and toes crossed for this one.

Get involved with some new, innovative science communication and public engagement projects
I have a few ideas for projects and ideas that I’d like to put some work into, but the bigger ones will need to wait until after my thesis is handed in. Between now and thesis hand in, I do want to keep up with public engagement work – but on a smaller scale. I’m thinking of creative projects linked to Science On A Postcard, collaborations with other makers (I’ve already got 2 lined up for the beginning of 2018!), and small-scale projects that I can do alongside the thesis.

2018 is going to be a big year for me, and I’m looking forward to sharing it on this blog – hope you all have a wonderful break and a productive year ahead too!

#365papers November Update

In my first post on this blog, I set myself 3 PhD-related goals for 2017. One of those goals was to read more widely, and more frequently, and I decided that doing the #365papers challenge would be a good way to do that.

This reading a paper a day is so difficult when there are a million and one things going on and a thesis to write! I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be doing the #365papers challenge in 2018, but I’m determined to complete this year’s challenge. I’ve enjoyed this month’s reading, but I’ve been doing it in little bursts – meaning I’ve only just finished November’s reading list as this blog post goes live at the beginning of December.. Next month’s reading has to be finished on time because there’s no way I’m panic reading piles of papers on new year’s eve – I’m committed to finishing this thing on a high!

November’s reading:

  1. Research Involvement and Engagement: reflections so far and future directions
  2. The impact of involvement on researchers: a learning experience
  3. Power to the people: To what extent has public involvement in applied health research achieved this?
  4. Factors associated with reporting results for pulmonary clinical trials in ClinicalTrials.gov
  5. A systematic review and development of a classification framework for factors associated with missing patient-reported outcome data
  6. The treatment in morning versus evening (TIME) study: analysis of recruitment, follow-up and retention rates post recruitment
  7. Can routine data be used to support cancer clinical trials? A historical baseline on which to build: retrospective linkage of data from the TACT breast cancer trial and the National Cancer Data Repository
  8. Network methods to support user involvement in qualitative data analyses: an introduction to Participatory Theme Elicitation
  9. A systematic literature review of evidence-based clinical practice for rare diseases: what are the perceived and real barriers for improving the evidence and how can they be overcome?
  10. Improving readiness for recruitment through simulated trial activation: the Adjuvant Steroids in Adults with Pandemic influenza (ASAP) trial
  11. The marketing plan and outcome indicators for recruiting and retaining parents in the HomeStyles randomised controlled trial
  12. Advancing ‘real-world’ trials that take account of social context and human volition
  13. Impact of a deferred recruitment model in a randomised controlled trial in primary care (CREAM) study
  14. Framing the conversation: use of PRECIS-2 ratings to advance understanding of pragmatic trial design domains
  15. Lessons from the field: the conduct of randomised controlled trials in Botswana
  16. Participant recruitment and retention in longitudinal preconception randomised trials: lessons learnt from the Calcium and Pre-eclampsia (CAP) trial
  17. A framework for the design, conduct and interpretation of randomised controlled trials in the presence of treatment changes
  18. Peak Gender Gap: Women at the top of science agencies
  19. Survey of risks and benefits communication strategies by research nurses
  20. The fractured logic of blinded peer review in journals
  21. Choosing wisely: How to fulfil the promise in the next 5 years
  22. Catch-22, clinical trial edition: Protecting women and children
  23. Insufficient recruitment and premature discontinuation of clinical trials in Switzerland: qualitative study with trialists and other stakeholders
  24. Rebranding retractions and the honest error hypothesis
  25. Participation and retention can be high in randomised controlled trials targeting underserved populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis
  26. Rheumatoid arthritis patients treated in trial and real world settings: comparison of randomised trials with registries
  27. Prevalence, characteristics, and publication of discontinued randomised trials
  28. Clear obstacles and hidden challenges: understanding recruiter perspectives in six pragmatic randomised controlled trials
  29. The intellectual challenges and emotional consequences of equipoise contributed to the fragility of recruitment in six randomised controlled trials
  30. Patient enrollment and logistical problems top the list of difficulties in clinical research: a cross-sectional survey

A Trip to Galway, Ireland – November 2017

This week I was invited to the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway) by colleagues at the Irish Health Research Board Trials Methodology Research Network (HRB-TMRN). It was a flying visit – I flew into Dublin and then got the bus to Galway on Wednesday evening, and as I write this I’m in Dublin airport waiting for my flight home.

On Thursday I presented a big chunk of my thesis work in a HRB-TMRN workshop, advertised below:

This wasn’t the first time I’ve presented to an outside audience, so I didn’t think I’d be nervous at all – but for some reason I was.

The HRB-TMRN is a group made up of brilliant people, and the research group that I am part of has built fantastic links with them, so honestly, I just didn’t want to screw up and make the Aberdeen team look bad! All was well though, the 3 hour workshop went really fast, and (I think!) I managed to create a pretty relaxed atmosphere where people could ask questions and discuss issues. We just about stuck to time, even with all the fantastic discussion points that were raised throughout – and everyone seemed to have gained some knowledge from the workshop at the end.

I’m not going to put slides for the sessions up on here, but I will turn each of the sessions into a blog post at some point – I really need to focus on getting this work into papers and thesis chapters over the next few months and the cynic in me is cautious about sharing slides on this before publication!

Group work the Irish way – facilitated by Taytos.

After the workshop ended I went for a coffee with a few members of the team, which gave my brain a chance to decompress after listening to the sound of my own voice for 3 hours. We also used this as an opportunity to discuss pieces of work that we’re collaborating on at the moment, which was really helpful. This was the first time I’ve met lots of members of the team in person (Skype and emails drive the world of research), and it was so lovely to put personalities to names. Such a fab group of people with real enthusiasm for what they’re doing.

My whirlwind day ended with dinner out with the team – a brilliant and hilarious evening filled with laughter and the best seafood I’ve had in a long time. Looking forward to the Irish contingent’s trip to Aberdeen in January!

(R-L) Dr Sandra Galvin, me, Dr Catherine Houghton, Dr Patricia Healy, Prof Declan Devane, Dr Linda Biesty.

Freelancing Whilst Doing a PhD: The Bad Bits

Back in April I posted about the good bits of freelancing whilst doing a PhD; I’d had a difficult week freelance-wise and wanted to remind myself why I was doing it. It’s now 7 months later and I’m starting to reduce the amount of freelance work I’m doing. I’m not enjoying it as much as I did before, and I’m starting to be much more picky with clients; I have a few clients I’ve worked with for a long time, and I’m reluctant to take further clients on at the moment. I figured this would be a good time to post about the downsides of freelancing whilst doing a PhD. If you’re thinking of working some freelance projects into your schedule it’s important to know that it isn’t always a great experience, so I hope this injects a bit of reality into things, and makes PhD students think carefully about whether to say yes to additional projects.

Ultimately, you don’t have full control over the work you do. I love science, and I love writing, but there are definitely bits of science that I do not enjoy writing about. I’m doing a PhD and my research interests are aligned with my project, and various topics linked to it – if I’m asked to write about anything related to physics or tech, I’m likely to be doing that purely because it’s a task I’m being paid for. This is the main reason why I’m reducing the amount of freelance work that I do now; the work I want to do, I’m already being paid for, freelance projects just aren’t getting me excited like they used to.

Clients can be a total nightmare. I say this is the most respectful way possible, but some clients just make me want to stop freelance work for good. Currently, I don’t have any of those clients – I’ve stopped working on those accounts over the past 7 months because I found myself spending more time chasing them for payment/clarification of project briefs etc than I did actually doing the work required. I’ve stopped chasing clients who haven’t got resources to me in time for me to meet the deadline; if I don’t have the resources, I don’t do the work. It’s pretty simple, and I wish I’d started doing that earlier, but I think it takes time (and confidence) for you to let things go like that. I’m now much more strict with myself when it comes to the way I deal with clients, and how much effort I’m willing to put in – of course, if a client is communicative then I will be too, but there’s no point in me spending time sending multiple emails if they’re not getting any response.

Holidays aren’t really a thing. Every week for the last 6 months I’ve researched, written, and submitted 2 Word documents to one of my clients. I actually really enjoy working on this project, but it’s every week – and it’s not something I can do ahead of time because it’s dependent on what’s happened in that week specifically. That means that when I take a week away from the PhD, I still end up working in some sort of routine. When I went to South Africa for the Global Evidence Summit (posts here and here if you missed them) a few months ago, I ended up working extra hard in the few weeks before, so that I could make sure that I didn’t need to keep up with freelance content whilst I was away.

Really, I’m falling out of love with the process of freelancing, and I think that’s largely because I’m coming to the end of my PhD, and I’m much more focussed on building a career now. In an ideal world I don’t want to be picking up freelance projects to keep me going, I want to work in research full time after the PhD – that realisation means that I’m not seeing longevity in freelance work anymore, and I’m much happier working on projects that are linked to my PhD in some way. I think I’ll continue freelancing with the limited number of clients that I have, but I doubt I’ll be taking on any further clients – I say that, but it’s all dependent on what happens job-wise after the PhD ends. I guess it’s just a case of watch this space! I’ve had a really good run with freelancing, I’ve worked with some brilliant clients on some super interesting projects, I just feel like it’s time to put my own research interests first now.

Have you thought about freelancing whilst doing your own research? If you have any questions please let me know and I’ll be happy to answer them (if I can!).

#365papers October Update

In my first post on this blog, I set myself 3 PhD-related goals for 2017. One of those goals was to read more widely, and more frequently, and I decided that doing the #365papers challenge would be a good way to do that.

Last month’s #365papers update was late.. again. This month though, I’m perfectly on time! I’ve caught up on reading thanks to a burst of motivation, reading for a writing retreat I’ve booked on to for the beginning of December, and reading for potential fellowship applications over the next few months. I’ve enjoyed this month’s reading more than previous months – I think it’s because I gave myself a bit more freedom to read papers that weren’t clearly and obviously linked to my PhD work, and allowed myself a bit more exploration within the subject of recruitment.

October’s reading:

  1. Writing retreat as structured intervention: margin or mainstream?
  2. ‘It’s not a hobby’: reconceptualising the place of writing in academic work
  3. Time is not enough: promoting strategic engagement with writing for publication
  4. Increasing academic output and supporting equality of career opportunity in universities: can writers’ retreats play a role?
  5. Developing a community of research practice
  6. An integrated conceptual framework for evaluating and improving ‘understanding’ in informed consent
  7. Specific barriers to the conduct of randomised clinical trials on medical devices
  8. The necessity of randomised clinical trials
  9. When are randomised trials unnecessary? Picking signal from noise
  10. The James Lind Library: explaining and illustrating the evolution of fair tests of medical treatments
  11. What is the best evidence for determining harms of medical treatment?
  12. Comparison of evidence of treatment effects in randomised and nonrandomised studies
  13. Evidence based medicine: what it is and what it isn’t
  14. The crisis in recruitment for clinical trials in Alzheimer’s and dementia: An action plan for solutions
  15. Alzheimer’s disease therapeutic trials: EU/US task force report on recruitment, retention, and methodology
  16. Participation in dementia trials and studies: Challenges and recommendations (whitepaper)
  17. Dementia trials and dementia tribulations: methodological and analytical challenges in dementia research
  18. Obstacle and opportunities in Alzheimer’s clinical trial recruitment
  19. Recruitment of subjects into clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease
  20. Commentary on “A roadmap for the prevention of dementia II. Leon Thal Symposium 2008.” Recruitment of participants for Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials: The role of trust in caregivers, clinical researchers, regulatory authorities, and industry sponsors
  21. Recruitment rates in gerontological research: the situation for drug trials in dementia may be worse than previously reported
  22. How redesigning AD clinical trials might increase study partners’ willingness to participate
  23. Number of Alzheimer’s clinical trials almost doubles in 3 years
  24. Comparison of recruitment efforts targeted at primary care physicians versus the community at large for participation in Alzheimer’s Disease clinical trials
  25. Addressing the challenges to successful recruitment and retention in Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials
  26. Are biomarkers harmful to recruitment and retention in Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials? An international perspective
  27. Recruiting community-based dementia patients and caregivers in a nonpharmacologic randomised trial: What works and how much does it cost?
  28. Attitudes toward clinical trials across the Alzheimer’s disease spectrum
  29. Why has therapy development for dementia failed in the last two decades?
  30. Predictors of physician referral for patient recruitment to Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials
  31. Recruiting to preclinical Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials through registries

Organisation for PhD Success: Reading & Referencing

A few weeks ago my lovely friend Lyuba sent me a message on WhatsApp: “How do you manage a bucket of readings? Do you use mendeley?” The conversation that ensued after this initial message was a few days of absolute organisational-nerd filled glory. Lyuba has just started her PhD at McMaster University, and she’s not the first relatively new PhD student to ask me for advice on how to organise things.

This post will focus on how I track my academic reading, how I make sure I can find papers months later, and how I reference. Later on I have another post planned that will cover task management and to do lists, but I suspect that’s going to take a little while to pull together, so I’m starting with the easier one first!

Tracking your reading

Reading is a massive part of the PhD process. Throughout my first year and into the early part of my second year I read, probably not as often as I should, but wasn’t particularly good at keeping track of what I’d read or what I thought about the studies. That changed in January when I started the #365papers project. I knew I needed to get more organised with my reading, and this was a surefire way to make it happen.

To track my reading I use a simple Word document; the image below shows part of this year’s document.

The table you can just about make out in the image above, is made up of 4 columns; ‘Date’, ‘Number’, ‘Title, First Author, Link’, and ‘Notes’. The ‘Number’ column refers to the amount of papers I’ve read in that month, so that I can easily look back when putting together my #365papers blog posts. Another thing to note is that the ‘Link’ in the third column is always a hyperlink to a full text of the paper – this makes things much easier than if you accidentally link to an abstract and then have to waste time finding the full text again each time you want to refer to the study.

The ‘Notes’ section is the most important part of this document – in it I write comments about the paper, whether I think it’s useful, comments on the quality of it, what I would change if I did the study myself etc. I also include ‘tags’ in this section – these tags help me to re-find papers weeks after I’ve first read them. Tags I use regularly include; ‘recruitment research’, ‘public engagement’, ‘patient involvement’, ‘methodology’, ‘qualitative research’. These are so incredibly helpful when I want to go back and find the notes I’ve written about papers covering different topics.
In the ‘Notes’ section I also highlight sections of text – you can see the yellow areas in the image above. Again, these help to remind me of papers that I’ve read and know I’ll want to refer back to. Usually the highlighted areas are notes to myself, e.g. ‘useful for thesis introduction’, ‘check if this included in systematic review’, or ‘very clear writing style – refer back to when writing up qualitative findings’.

I’ve used this system since January, and I’ve found it so useful – I’m going to start a new Word document in January and keep the 2017 #365papers document for reference, so I’ll eventually have a big archive of all the papers I’ve read. For me, this is a really easy and simple way to track my reading; I have never used Mendeley because it’s not supported by my University, so if anything went wrong with it I’d freak out and not have anywhere to get help – seriously, the librarians at Aberdeen Medical Library are absolute superheroes, and have helped me tonnes in the past with various things. This brings me neatly on to referencing..

Referencing

Referencing is my least favourite part of academic writing – I don’t mean the whole finding information and referring to it thing, I mean the painful task of formatting the names of authors, papers, journals etc into a very specific format. What I find particularly infuriating about it is the time that it takes, and the fact that I know that no one reads reference lists with as much effort as it takes to write them.

As you might expect, referencing software is one of my favourite things about academic writing. I use RefWorks. It doesn’t allow me to store entire papers, just the reference for that paper (as far as I know anyway..), hence the big Word document of reading I talked about earlier. What it does have though, is folders. These enable me to make buckets of references that I know I’ll refer to in pieces of writing later on, speeding up the process of referencing whilst writing.

RefWorks is the reference software that Aberdeen University uses, so I’ve used the same account since I started my undergraduate degree – meaning that I can track references back throughout every assessment I’ve submitted for the last 7 years. The major perk of using the system that’s supported by the University is that the librarians know exactly how to do just about anything linked to RefWorks. On the very rare occasion that something goes wrong with RefWorks – it’s happened once in 7 years – the support team there are really good. I emailed the support desk a copy of my undergraduate thesis along with a very panicked email because the referencing just wasn’t working, and it was sent back to me the next day with the references exactly where I wanted them.

If your university doesn’t use RefWorks, check what they do support – and go with that. Lots of PhD students I know don’t use referencing software and honestly, I have no idea how they have got this far without being driven insane by the process. I can’t imagine trying to reference my entire thesis by hand; I’d probably need a 3 month extension and then time off afterwards to recover.

MRC Network of Hubs for Trials Methodology Recruitment Working Group Meeting – Liverpool, 5th October 2017

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has a number of ‘Hubs’ across various cities in the UK, each conducting research into different aspects of clinical trials methodology. Together, the Hubs are known as the HTMR Network – the Hubs for Trials Methodology Research Network. As part of these hubs, there are a number of Working Groups. These Working Groups each focus on a specific area of interest in the trials methodology world.

I’m part of the Recruitment Working Group, and a few weeks ago we had a face to face meeting in Liverpool. Usually we have monthly teleconferences to ensure that we all know what projects are ongoing, and there are distinct pieces of work being done by groups of people within the group too. Until now I hadn’t met many of the group members face to face, so this was a brilliant opportunity for us to work together and make decisions on where we wanted to go next in terms of projects, funding and potential collaborators.

The meeting was incredibly productive, and I came away inspired and exciting for the work we’ll do together in the future – on a side note, if you’re ever feeling uninspired by your research, make an effort to go to a conference, symposium, or big meeting with people that have similar research interests to you; I always come away feeling enthusiastic and ready to work!

Anyway, when I got back I flicked through my notes and came up with an infographic that covers (in brief!) lots of what we talked about:

I thought I’d give an outline of what this infographic shows, and when paper(s) eventually start to come out, I’ll update this blog and explain a bit more about the specifics of the research too.

ORRCA

Online Resource for Recruitment research in clinical Trials (ORRCA) is one of the Recruitment Working Group’s biggest success stories. Carrol Gamble gave a short presentationon ORRCA, explaining that it was a huge project made possible by many of the members of the group giving up there time to screen abstracts and categorise studies so that the database could be populated.I was one of the people who categorised papers etc, and I’ll be a named author on the paper when it comes out, so I’ll do another blog post with more details then. In brief – ORRCA is a database full of recruitment research, it is updated every year and means that recruitment researchers can use it as a one stop shop for relevant literature. This is incredibly useful because when you’re doing a systematic review you inevitably end up screening through hundreds, if not thousands, of irrelevant literature. Using the ORRCA database means that a lot of the irrelevant studies have already been weeded out, so the entire process of doing a systematic review could be sped up hugely.

The Cochrane Recruitment Review

Taken from Wikipedia: The Cochrane Library (named after Archie Cochrane) is a collection of databases in medicine and other healthcare specialties provided by Cochrane and other organizations. At its core is the collection of Cochrane Reviews, a database of systematic reviews and meta-analyses which summarize and interpret the results of medical research. The Cochrane Library aims to make the results of well-conducted controlled trials readily available and is a key resource in evidence-based medicine.

My PhD Supervisor has a Cochrane systematic review that looks at strategies to improve recruitment to clinical trials. The review was published in 2010, and is now in the process of being updated; it’s important that systematic reviews are updated so that we can hoover up and include data from recent studies. The short talk that Shaun gave focussed on the results of the update (it’s currently under review and should hopefully be published soon – and I’m a named author, hoorah!). Largely, the information that we have about recruitment strategies is thin, that was the case in 2010 and it’s still the case now. There’s one notable exception though – the MRC START project. MRC START was a project that offered something that we so often lack in the world of recruitment research; coordination. I’m not going to go into too much detail here, I’ll just say that when a coordinated effort focusses on answering a research question, that research question is much more likely to be answered with a satisfactory body of evidence. The updated review doesn’t provide us with groundbreaking results, but it does provide encouragement – we are seeing slow progress in the world of methodology research, and that’s better than no progress at all!

The Non-Randomised Recruitment Review

After Shaun had given his presentation on the Cochrane review, I then gave a short presentation on the systematic review that I lead. This review makes up a substantial part of my PhD project; the protocol for it was published last year. This review differs from the Cochrane review in that it includes only non-randomised studies, i.e. a bigger body of evidence, that is of a much lower quality. I’m planning on doing a more detailed blog post about this review when it is published, so keep an eye out for that – hopefully next Spring.

PRioRiTY

I don’t want to give too much away about the PRioRiTy project because I know that the paper from it has just been submitted, so again, I’ll do a more detailed blog post when it’s out. The basic outline of PRioRiTy is a priority setting project in partnership with the James Lind Alliance.

The James Lind Alliance believes that:

  • addressing uncertainties about the effects of a treatment should become accepted as a routine part of clinical practice
  • patients, carers and clinicians should work together to agree which, among those uncertainties, matter most and deserve priority attention.

They usually get involved with prioritisation work around clinical outcomes, but this was their first methodology-based project, so very exciting! The project involved lots of different stakeholders, with the aim of coming up with a prioritised list of topics for research within the area of trials recruitment. Declan Devane explained how the project progressed, and then unveiled the top 10 questions that came out of the work. This work provides a point of focus for us as recruitment researchers. As I mentioned earlier, the concept of coordinated effort is something we’ve lacked, meaning that a lot of work is happening in a lot of different areas, but the effort involved isn’t particularly focussed.

What next?

The meeting was super productive, and we’re planning another face to face meeting for the early part of 2018 so that we can work up some of the ideas that we came up with in that meeting. Ultimately, we want to have a few well thought-out project ideas, so that we can start looking at potential pots of funding for the collaborative work we’ve planned.

#365papers September Update

In my first post on this blog, I set myself 3 PhD-related goals for 2017. One of those goals was to read more widely, and more frequently, and I decided that doing the #365papers challenge would be a good way to do that.

I ended last month’s #365papers update by saying ‘hopefully September’s reading won’t be quite so late as August’s was…’ – and here I am 13 days late. September was a really busy month and though I was reading, it was snippets and abstracts and posters from conferences, rather than entire papers. I’ve now caught up – and I’m determined to make sure that October’s update is back on track time-wise!

This month’s reading has been a big mix of things because I’m working on my literature review, and also getting involved with some new projects. I’ve really enjoyed this month’s reading – when I had time to do it at least, so hopefully there’s some interesting papers in this list for others too.

September’s reading:

  1. The ethics of underpowered clinical trials
  2. The ethics of underpowered clinical trials
  3. Informing clinical trial participants about study results
  4. Women’s views and experiences of two alternative consent pathways for participation in a preterm intrapartum trial: A qualitative study
  5. Recruiting patients as partners in health research: a qualitative descriptive study
  6. Identifying additional studies for a systematic review of retention strategies in randomised controlled trials: making contact with trials units and trial methodologists
  7. Methods for obtaining unpublished data
  8. Clinical features of Parkinson’s disease patients are associated with therapeutic misconception and willingness to participate in clinical trials
  9. Health research participants are not receiving research results: a collaborative solution is needed
  10. Health research participants’ preferences for receiving research results
  11. Why is therapeutic misconception so prevalent?
  12. Recommendations for the return of research results to study participants and guardians: a report from the children’s oncology group
  13. Oncology physician and nurse practices and attitudes regarding offering clinical trial results to study participants
  14. Search for unpublished data by systematic reviewers: an audit
  15. Patient and public involvement in data collection for health services research: a descriptive study
  16. Health researchers’ attitudes towards public involvement in health research
  17. Patients’ and clinicians’ research priorities
  18. Public involvement at the design stage of primary health research: a narrative review of case examples
  19. The impact of patient and public involvement on UK NHS health care: a systematic review
  20. Involving South Asian patients in clinical trials
  21. No longer research about us without us: a researcher’s reflection on rights and inclusive research in Ireland
  22. Willingness to participate in pragmatic dialysis trials: the importance of physician decisional autonomy and consent approach
  23. How important is patient recruitment in performing clinical trials?
  24. Recruiting hard-to-reach subjects: is it worth the effort?
  25. Fundamental dilemmas of the randomised clinical trial process: results of a survey of the 1,737 Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group investigators
  26. The research-treatment distinction: A problematic approach for determining which activities should have ethical oversight
  27. Leaving therapy to chance
  28. Use of altered informed consent in pragmatic clinical research
  29. A framework for analysis of research risks and benefits to participants in standard of care pragmatic clinical trials
  30. Public engagement on global health challenges