Last week Jo had the pleasure of accompanying the PenCLAHRC PhD students funded by the NIHR CLAHRC Research Capacity in Dementia Care Pilot programme (RCDCP) to their annual meeting in London. The meeting brought together students and supervisors from PenCLAHRC and three other CLAHRCs (Greater Manchester, Wessex and East of England) to share progress and learning.  It was a real privilege to be amongst this inspiring group of allied health professionals (e.g. physiotherapists, nurses, occupational therapists,  dietitians…) to hear about their backgrounds, their experience and their projects and to see them working together across CLAHRCs to support and encourage each other.  Without exception they showed great passion for making positive changes for people with dementia, using their clinical experience to guide their research plans and generate evidence to guide future practice.

Without further ado, over to Chloe Wood, Lou Wilkinson, Abi Hall and Lisa Burrows to share their thoughts and reflections on the two-day meeting…

We arrived at the Hilton London Euston hotel around lunchtime on Thursday, and after depositing our luggage in our rooms, we enjoyed lunch with our colleagues from the three other CLAHRCs, many of whom we had not seen since our trip to Sweden this time last year.  It was great to hear about how everyone was getting on with their projects, yet we all agreed that it felt like the past year had flown by!  We were asked to bring a poster that we had recently used, so after lunch we set about finding a space on the wall to put them up and Professor Eneida Mioshi (the RCDCP lead) welcomed the eleven students and four academic leads to the meeting.

The first session was focused on ‘postdoctoral life: employment of independent funding?’ with Dr Tamara Backhouse from UEA, and Dr Nathan Davies from UCL.  Tamara told us how her PhD had enabled her to develop many skills, but especially her confidence when presenting.  Nathan shared some of the trials and tribulations he experienced during his PhD, and tips for overcoming these.  It was a timely session for many of us who are starting to think about life beyond the PhD.

After a quick tea break the next session began, one which the eleven students were slightly anxious about! 

We each gave an update on our projects following the ‘3 Minute thesis (3MT ®)’ format.  We were allowed one static slide, and could only talk for 3 minutes. 

Abi Hall was the first to fly the PenCLAHRC flag and it was clear from her presentation how much she has achieved so far in her project focused on physiotherapy for people with dementia.  Chloë Wood was the next PenCLAHRC student to present; she was praised on her ability to articulate her project, in particular the topic of the amalgamation of marginal gains, coherently.  Lisa Burrows took to the stage after Chloë, and did a wonderful job of explaining the realist approach to her project and the findings so far from memory cafes in Cornwall all in three minutes! Louise Mole was the final student to present, and described her exciting project exploring the nutritional needs of people with dementia living at home with enthusiasm, captivating the audience.

Whilst each student presented, we all (students and leads) had the unenviable task of giving feedback on a huge list of different elements – multi-tasking skills were most definitely a bonus – but the feedback will be really useful if we are ever asked to do this sort of presentation again!  We were very proud of Lisa Burrows who won the prize for best presentation, sharing the honour with Sue Jones from East of England CLAHRC.

To earn our 3-course dinner, we took part in a fun ‘apprentice-style’ challenge orchestrated by Jason Corner, one of the East of England students.  We were organised into mixed-CLARHC teams and given a list of items that we were to photograph, such as ‘Christmas socks’ and ‘ an apple’ ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘some hair straighteners’.  After 40 minutes of running around the Euston area we all arrived back with our photographs. 

After a busy day we continued to enjoy networking over a wonderful 3-course dinner at the hotel before retiring to recoup for the following day’s events.

The first session on Friday was an insightful perspective from Dr Ruth Bartlett and Professor Claire Goodman on ‘involving people with dementia and family carers in your research: development, design, and dissemination for impact’.  We all shared our ‘PPI’ experiences so far, including some of the challenges we had faced.  Ruth showed us a video she had commissioned, involving a PPI workshop she had conducted as part of her research looking at GPS trackers for people with dementia.  We also had a lively discussion about ‘Arnsteins’ ladder of citizen participation’ (See Sherry R. Arnstein’s “A Ladder of Citizen Participation,” Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 35, No. 4, July 1969, pp. 216-224). and how it might (or might not!) be useful in our projects. 

The final session of the day was facilitated by Dr Simon Bailey and focused on leadership skills.  In groups, we discussed some of the leadership skills that we felt were important, both as practitioners and as researchers.  We agreed that we could try to demonstrate leadership traits in our everyday lives as research students, and not just think of them as aspirations. 

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That concluded the end of an enjoyable and inspiring 24 hours.  We all agreed that it was a great opportunity to spend time with other students, with which we all have commonalities with clinical backgrounds and a passion for improving dementia care.  We realised that our RCDCP group is a perfect example of cross-CLARHC working and we are fortunate to have this forum for knowledge-sharing and support. Through this sharing of knowledge and experiences we are now seeing some of the output from the RCDCP programme, highlighting the value of training health care professionals to be the next leaders in dementia care research.

Title photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash