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Myself and Ben Fletcher are both SPCR funded D.Phil students. When discussing the trainees days held annually by the SPCR we talked about the opportunities these provide us with to meet students from different departments, hear about the types of work which they are doing, and learn more about the methods they’re using in their research. We thought it would be a fantastic idea to organize a series of events that provided all PhD students from any SPCR affiliated departments with similar opportunities. We were keen to facilitate more regular opportunities for exchange of skills and ideas with students from across the school.

To take advantage of the opportunity to meet with fellow students, attendees were grouped based on their methodological areas of interest and were encouraged to mingle with others who had similar research interests from different universities.
- Hajira Dambha, PhD student, University of Cambridge

The SPCR supported our idea and agreed that they would fund a series of future training days which would be available free of charge to any student in an SPCR affiliated department who wished to attend.

We contacted students, formed an organizing committee, and designed our first in a series of training days which would focus on RCTs. We designed a training day which would provide specific skills training, and also the opportunity to network with other students. Whilst I was in charge of overall organisation, each member of the team was responsible for a specific part of the day, and they designed a series of interesting and  informative events which were a great success!

The first half of the day comprised of a series of talks that focused on skills development for implementing RCTs. Hajira invited the speakers and orgnanised fantastic surroundings at St. John’s college Cambridge:

Professor Jonathan Mant was our first presenter and spoke about why and when to use RCTs. He encouraged us not to simply follow reporting guidelines and checklists, but instead to think critically about their limitations; what’s missing in the CASP checklist? Do these checklist adequately consider process evaluation? This discussion was followed by our  second speaker, Professor Simon Griffin, who talked about the practicalities of running large trials in primary care. We were given helpful insights into the limitations of trials and lessons that had been learned along the way- handy tips that can only be gained through years of experience.

Dr Jenni Burt’s talk focused on understanding the role of qualitative research alongside RCTs and especially its value in process evaluation. The list of questions that could be answered with qualitative research was extensive and certainly emphasised the importance of qualitative research within RCTs.

Dr Katie Saunders provided our last talk;  a clear and comprehensive overview of statistical concepts including chance, confounding, bias, sample size, as well as tackling importance issues around generalizability and ethics.

Following lunch and an excellent tour around St. John’s College Cambridge from our resident expert Hajira we started our next event, a three minute thesis competition, designed by Beth and Sarah:

“Five students from our SPCR institutes braved the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, presenting their PhD project in a gruellingly short time frame. All presenters put in tremendous effort and were extremely confident and engaging, making it difficult to judge the winners. Congratulations to Claire Burton, who received first prize, and Gemma-Claire Ali, taking runner up, for their imaginative approach towards communicating their studies. Claire presented Superman’s case of carpel tunnel syndrome to help us understand why it is important to investigate treatment options for the condition. Gemma-Claire similarly gave us insight into the lives of older carers.” 

Our final event of the day was an opportunity to network which Lucy and Rachel organized:

“To take advantage of the opportunity to meet with fellow students, attendees were grouped based on their methodological areas of interest and were encouraged to mingle with others who had similar research interests from different universities.”

We received some great feedback on the day, and I put my qualitative skills into practice to make a word cloud summarising the comments we received. I think this reflects our success and shows we achieved the supportive, informative and collaborative atmosphere we aimed for.

I hope we’ve started a series of exciting events which will provide training and networking opportunities for many students in the future. 

The next event: Developing skills for patient and public involvement will take place at Newcastle University on 7 June.