Category: PhD

Health care research is untidy – what does it mean for postdocs? #CochraneCalgary2015

Why do we study health? Because we want to help patients. It’s no rocket science. And yet, most clinical trials do not measure outcomes that are important for patients. Besides, researchers don’t agree on what the core set of outcomes should be. “Health care research is untidy.” — Mike Clarke. In this post, I write about my experience of a conference about outcomes for clinical research and how it relates to postdoc training.


Systematic reviews are often required as part of a PhD or a postdoc training. Over 30,000 authors produce Cochranesystematic reviews of literature for the Cochrane library worldwide. The Canadian Cochrane centre hosted about a hundred of them at a recent joint conference, together with the COMET initiative (Core Outcome Measures in Trials), in Calgary, Canada (#CochraneCalgary2015).

Many junior postdocs who were at the conference struggled to publish papers. Yet, the number of publications is considered a core outcome of a postdoc training. Is it enough? What’s a core outcome set for a postdoc fellowship? “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” — Albert Einstein.

 Ultimately, the fellowship should result in a faculty position. But we know that there aren’t enough positions for all PhD’s and postdocs. The truth is that we don’t need so many PhDs. “PhD ‘overproduction’ is not new and faculty retirements won’t solve it,” writes Melonie Fullick in her speculative diction at University Affairs (March 25, 2015): “Yet somehow no matter how many PhDs enrol and graduate, academic careers are the goal.”


What lessons can postdocs take from the Cochrane collaboration to improve their career prospects? All Cochrane reviews must have a protocol. Cochrane protocols get published in the Cochrane library. However, protocols for non-Cochrane systematic reviews are difficult to publish in journals. Nevertheless, postdocs who decide to do a systematic review and can upload the review protocol on to their open-access universities’ depositories. They get picked up by the google.scholar and can be counted in the H-index. This way, junior postdocs can improve one of their core outcome measures – the track record. Although it’s probably not the best measure of a successful training, it’s the currency of science. 

How to go about getting a postdoc position? Finding funding

There probably isn’t a simple answer to this question. Everybody has a different experience. My path was one of finding my own funding to do what I liked. Other people get postdocs via other routes, but I’d hope that my story bellow illustrates one of the paths people can take.

My mentor helped me identify funding calls and write funding applications. Then, I applied for everything and some of the applications were successful. Keeping up with the current funding calls via Research Newsletters and email alerts, such as Find A Phd, helped me too. I met the collaborators for my projects at conferences and seminars.

 
My experience is from Ireland, although I have a Slovakian PhD in Social Psychology(04/2011).
First, as a Research Assistant, I applied for and was successful with getting a Cochrane Training Fellowship to complete a Cochrane Systematic review over two years – 2 days p/week – from the Health Research Board Ireland (2010-12). The fellowship examined psychosocial interventions to reduce alcohol consumption in concurrent problem alcohol and illicit drug users. The absence of evidence on the subject helped us to identify priorities for research.  To find out more about the Cochrane Systematic reviews of literature, go to: www.cochranecollaboration.org
Towards the end of my two-year Cochrane Fellowship, my Irish supervisors offered me two complementary part-time postdoc positions, both of which I accepted. The first was a three-year position in emergency medical science research. The second was a one-year position developing new projects in primary care settings and supervising medical students (2012-13). From a personal perspective, teaching literature reviews to medical students taught me how to address a training gap through addiction research education for medical students.
At the same time, I applied for two other grants. First was a three-year feasibility study in primary care from Health Research Board Ireland (Co-applicant). Second, an INVEST drug abuse fellowship from the National Institute for Drug Abuse – NIDA (Fellow). The feasibility study was a direct result of our efforts to highlight the problem of alcohol consumption among people receiving methadone treatment. We’ve trained family physicians in psychosocial interventions for concurrent problem and drug use disorders. Hence the title for the PINTA study.
Both were successful. Thanks to the patience and flexibility of my supervisors, I was able to combine and merge all of these opportunities. The INVEST postdoctoral fellowship was a six months job in at Oregon Health and Science Universityin Portland, OR, studying implementation of alcohol SBIRT in primary- versus secondary-care based opioid agonist treatment (2013). Our poster at the Annual Symposium of the Society for the Study of Addiction described qualitative component of the study. Training health care professionals in delivering alcohol SBIRT is feasible and acceptable for implementation among opioid agonist patients; however, it is not sufficient to maintain a sustainable change. After INVEST, I returned back to my composite Irish postdoc.
Eight months after the return back to Ireland, and one year before the end of my three-year Irish postdoc, I received another fellowship from the Irish Research Council. This International Career Development Award is co-funded by a European Union scheme called Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions. To improve the addiction medicine education for doctors (BEAMED), I’ll do an external and independent evaluation of the addiction medicine fellowship and plan a similar training in Ireland (2014-17). To learn more about the Marie Cure awards, go to: http://ec.europa.eu/research/mariecurieactions/

Think Broad: Irish Research Council ELEVATE Postdoctoral Fellowship Awards launched today

“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals” – Marie Skłodowska-Curie

September 17th – the Irish Research Council is pleased to announce the launch of the International Career Development Awards – the ELEVATE Fellowships. Over 20 awardees confirmed their attendance. The speakers have been invited to give Awardees useful perspectives and food for thought before heading off on the international phase of this Fellowship. The launch has been a nice opportunity to meet fellow Awardees on this cohort.
The event took place in the Irish Research Council’s building, Brooklawn House, Crampton Avenue (off Shelborune Road), Dublin 4, Ireland, from 10am to 4.30pm.
Programme of the day:
10.00am-10.30am:      Welcome by the Irish Research Council
Introduction to Council Enterprise Team
Introduction to ELEVATE 2014 cohort
10.30am-12.30pm:      Dr. Janet Metcalf, Chair & Head of Vitae, ‘Careers for Researchers’
12.30pm-1.45pm:        Lunch and Networking
1.45pm-4.00pm:          Barbara Moynihan, On Your Feet ‘Present with Power’
Dr Metcalf’s talk focused on broadening the Fellows’ career aspirations: “I’ve never had any career plan, any career goal. Only two principles: catch every ball that’s thrown at me and make sure my decisions are widening my options, not narrowing them.”

Dr Janet Metclaf, photosource: vitae
 ELEVATEFellowship is a funding scheme of Irish Research Council which aims to fund Irish-based experienced researchers who have gained most of their research experience in Ireland so that they can acquire new skills and expertise while conducting high-level research abroad for two years and then return to Ireland for one final year with their newly acquired knowledge and expertise. The Irish Research Council International Career Development Fellowships are Co-funded by European Union through the Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions. In 2013, 15 researchers received the Fellowships for different projects from time travel through nanotechnologies to diamonds. The council funded similar schemes in the past, for example, the EMPOWER 2011-12 or INSPIRE 2009-11. This year, 25 fellowships were awarded to 5 academic and 20 industry-based projects. Text taken from www.research.ie
Barbara Monynihan, source: onyourfeet
 Irish Research Council (@IrishResearch) funds excellent researchers across all disciplines and encourages interdisciplinary research and engagement with enterprise.  The Council facilitates the career development of researchers by funding those at an early stage of their research career to associate with established research teams who have achieved international recognition for their work. The Council aims to support an expertise-driven research system in order to enhance Ireland’s innovation capacity and skills base in a rapidly changing global environment where knowledge is key to economic, social and cultural development. The Council is further committed to facilitating the integration of Irish researchers in all disciplines within the European Research Area. Text taken from www.research.ie
Maria “Manya” Salomea Sklodowska
© ACJC – Archives Curie et Joliot-Curie
 Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) are European research grants for scientists in Europe and abroad. The objective of the MSCA is to support the career development and training of researchers – with a focus on innovation skills – in all scientific disciplines through worldwide and cross-sector mobility. For this, the MSCA provide grants at all stages of researchers’ careers, from PhD candidates to highly experienced researchers, and encourage transnational, intersectoral and interdisciplinary mobility. The MSCA will become the main EU programme for doctoral training, funding 25 000 PhDs.
Endowing researchers with new skills and a wider range of competences, while offering them attractive working conditions, is a crucial aspect of the MSCA. In addition to mobility between countries, the MSCA also seek to break the real and perceived barriers between academic and other sectors, especially business. The MSCA follow a “bottom-up” approach, i.e. individuals and organisations working in any area of research can apply for funding. Several MSCA initiatives promote the involvement of industry etc. in doctoral and post-doctoral research. Text taken from www.ec.europa.eu

I will be awarded the ELEVATE to do research on better addiction medicine education for doctors in Ireland and in Canada (www.addictionmedicinefellowship.org). Watch this space for more information.

HORIZON 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Information Day: Mobility is part of their job description

Being able, ready and happy to move for work enhances academic career. On 4th June 2014, in the Gibson Hotel, Dublin, Ireland, the Irish Marie Skłodowska-Curie Office hosted an information day on the individual fellowships. Guest speaker on the day was Alessandra Luchetti, Head of the EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Unit (Figure 1). The event, co-organised with InterTradeIreland introduced the new opportunities for researchers in the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions under Horizon 2020.
In the past, the Marie Curie Actions programme was one of the big success stories of Irish participation in FP7 funding programme, representing almost €100 million of the €600 million drawn-down by Ireland from FP7. The Actions have funded researchers from industry, community and academia to build their research capacity, with a strong focus on international mobility and strengthening careers for researchers.
 

Figure 1 Guest Speaker: Alessandra Luchetti, Head of Unit, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, European Commission: – you are lucky that I do not have to talk in Italian, I’m talkative, so I am genetically modified
More than 25 years ago, it was only the EU mobility scheme; it is the oldest and the most famous. Today, the cutoff for a successful application is 92%. The focus of the fellowship is on career development. UK and USA are the most preferred countries for the European and for the Global schemes, respectively. Ireland has funded identical twins in the FP7 programme (one of them through reserved list).
The fellowship has many benefits. Researchers have the opportunity to go to a centre that is top of their field. The social capital increases, you meet politicians, high-level academics. The fellowship gives leverage to link in with community. The label of MC fellow at the end of the email opens many doors. The postdoctoral researchers, who are normally stuck in Limbo – because they can’t apply for solo-funding – can use this first individual fellowship grant to demonstrate capability of attaining further funding. For the principal investigators, the fellowship offers to do more research with bigger teams. For example, an Irish-EU funding stream – Inspire – funded 21 experienced researchers in 2 calls at the UCD Energy Institute.

Research Supervisor Support and Development Programme: Monitoring, Assessment, Examiners and Viva

It is the start of a semester and you estimate that your research student will be ready to submit thesis for examination in about 4-5 months’ time. What are the steps you (as supervisor) should take to progress the assessment process?

With this intriguing question, Karen O’Shea (Director of assessment at UCD Graduate Studies), kicked off the last meeting in a series of the new Research support and supervisor development programme at the University College Dublin, Ireland

Submission of thesis and selection of examiners
www.zazzle.com

Ms. O’Shea  advised to check the policy first. Finding an external examiner for the viva is often a problem, because you’re working with all eligible people. When choosing the external examiner, find out if there is a conflict. Make sure the student is registered and the fees are compliant. Once the process begins, it must end (when you sign off the thesis submission form, that’s when you’re quitting the supervision). But what if you’re not happy with the thesis – can’t sign it is the most logical and honest answer. So, when do you say, ok, it’s ready for submission? At the day of the viva, the supervisor can accompany the student to the viva room, but has to stay quiet. Finally, the exam regulations change, but not often.

Transfers and red flags
Professor Julie Berndsen (Dean of Graduate Studies) said the stage transfer (assessment) was the most popular and beneficial element of UCD’s structured PhD. The transfer assessors should do a fairly considerate decision about the student’s progress. Research master’s degree is not a failed PhD. Transfer to the 2nd stage is not a guarantee of a PhD. You can’t challenge the verdict, but you can challenge the process of the transfer.

Preparation for the viva voce
Professor Ben Tonra (Head of School, Politics & International Relations) asked “What do you fear? Your investment?” To have a PhD student is the most terrifying thing for some. They worry that the thesis won’t pass. Examinable doesn’t equal passable. In some sense it’s their work and they’re not letting go. The sense of being in charge is very high in some disciplines. But the problem is our problem; it’s going to look shitty on us if they don’t pass. Let’s be honest. We’re invested in this. At the point of submission, they’re your colleagues. Whose project is this?
The PhD is a regulated process, but there’s a lot of vigour room. One of the big challenges is plagiarism. Memorandum at school level about who’s doing what on the day of viva is useful. Don’t just trust the process, follow up that things are happening.

Do a mock, dry run of the viva presentation.

This post offered my views on the fifth meeting of the new Research support and supervisor development programme at the University College Dublin, Ireland. The programme was targeted at new and experienced faculty who would like to refresh their knowledge in the area. The 5 last-Friday workshops were based on sharing of practices with experienced supervisors and students, case studies, open forum discussions and knowledge sharing with colleagues on policy in the research supervisory field. I covered the previous meetings in the posts about leadersstyles, recruitment and pitfalls.  Thank you for watching this space for my observations from these workshops.