Good systematic reviewers are highly sought after. My boss claims in the last 20 years (since systematic review really kicked off) he has never known a systematic reviewer not to be in demand. I was lucky to stumble across the job ad and subsequently get the position I am in. I honestly had no idea what I was really applying for. My company made a decision to recruit graduates so the ad was targeted to the skills they were looking for – the list matched my skills so I applied. Having held the role for three and a half years I am now involved in recruitment of new trainees and fully appreciate More...
I hope Monday’s post gave you a quick insight into science policy and where there are opportunities for scientists to provide input, either through formal or informal channels. In today’s post I thought I could share a little about what I do day-to-day as Senior Research Officer in the Policy Team at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS).
My role at NCIRS involves many tasks, all that are very different from those I carried out in my previous life as a medical research scientist (though to be honest, much of the thought processes are the same). The main responsibility of our team is to provide research and technical support to the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). ATAGI is a ministerial advisory body that reviews the most contemporary evidence on immunisation and provides independent advice on immunisation to the government. This most often relates to advice on the Australian National Immunisation Program that provides many vaccines for Australians free of charge (it is one of the most comprehensive programs in the world btw). The previous ATAGI chair Professor Terry Nolan wrote a great paper explaining processes for immunisation policy in Australia, including the role of ATAGI and NCIRS - google scholar "Nolan, Terry M. The Australian model of immunization advice and vaccine funding. Vaccine 28 (2010): A76-A83".
Let me give you an example of one of the projects I worked on when I started at NCIRS as a very green policy researcher. A few years before I started, Australia had launched their National Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination Program for girls/young women, but at the time, new clinical trial data had emerged demonstrating the vaccine was safe and effective in males. This new evidence led to the policy question of should the National HPV Vaccination Program be extended to include males, and if so, what ages? how many vaccine doses? will a booster be required etc etc etc. As one of the NCIRS team members providing technical support to the ATAGI HPV Working Party, it was my task to review, synthesise and appraise the available evidence (published, grey literature and in-confidence) that would answer these questions. This was done by carrying out systematic literature reviews (with the assistance of an amazing medical librarian, Catherine King, who is also a Franklin Women member). Systematic reviews are a research method that is regularly used to inform clinical questions. Unlike traditional narrative reviews, systematic reviews aim to comprehensively review all relevant studies relevant to a clinical question, critically appraise the study quality and synthesis/interpret data identified. The National Health and Medical Research Council publish guidelines on how to systematically identify and review evidence. Our team published a narrative review article summarising the different policy considerations relevant to extension of the HPV vaccine program in Australian in Lancet Infectious Disease (woo hoo!). Available here if your uni/institute has access. The HPV vaccine program in Australia has since been expanded (from 2013) to include free vaccine for adolescent boys and girls. A good example of where research lead to change in public health policy!
There are a number of other projects that I work on, such as the preparation of resources for immunisation providers on vaccines and vaccine preventable diseases. I am also the assistant technical editor of The Australian Immunisation Handbook, which is the National immunisation guidelines used by those who administer vaccines. When required I can take on ad-hoc epidemiological research projects, for example analysing hospitalisation and death data.
After nearly 5 years in this role I have learnt so much and have developed a real interest in public health policy. I would be lying if I said there weren’t things from the lab I didn’t miss, however there are many that I don’t. See below my list of likes/not-likes for my current job! The most daunting part for me was coming to the realisation that I was ready to move on from the lab and figuring out where I could go that would utilise the skills and knowledge I had acquired through my years of science training as well as the other personal skills I had that weren’t being utilised in the lab. But more about that next blog….
- Seeing your work translate into public health benefit
- Interacting with lots of different stakeholders (buzz word!), from nurses/doctors, government officials, experts, vaccine companies
- Working on so many different diseases, vaccines, research questions
- Translating complex science into resources for those who deliver vaccines
- Learning about risk communication - a personal interest of mine that is very relevant when communicating about vaccines to members of the public.
- Having a stable position that doesn’t rely on research outputs e.g. papers!
NOT SO MUCH
- Sitting down at a desk all day (and eating at your desk, sometimes!) is hard to get used to
- Learning how to know a little about a lot rather than a lot about a little (eg your PhD!)
- Coming to terms with not having your own research project and publishing reports without your name as the author
- The external factors that impact your work load that you cannot plan for (governments are even more unpredictable than group A streptococcal opsonisation assays!)
Thank you to FW friend Melissa Burke who, after reading Melina’s blog posts on transitioning from academia to health policy, sent us links to two opportunities in healthy policy which may be of interest to FW members.
- The NSW Public Health Officer Training Program: This is a NSW program which runs for three years and is specifically for individuals who have completed postgraduate studies in public health. Over the three-year program trainees gain experience in different areas of public health within NSW Health (from health promotion to outbreak responses and data analysis). New intakes into the program happen once a year so keep an eye out on the website. Our very own FW member Dr Jane Jelfs joined the NSW Public Health Officer Training Program last year. If you have any questions for Jane. contact her through members connect in the members area of our website.
- Harkness Fellowships in Health Care Policy and Practice: This Fellowship is offered through The Commonwealth Fund and is open to mid-career health service researchers in a number of countries including Australia. Successful applications spend up to a year in the United States working with leading health policy experts. Unfortunately, applications for Australia and New Zealand applicants for 2015 - 2016 just closed but you can still find more information and application requirements, here.
We are yet to come across any initiatives that particularly support scientists gaining experience in health policy roles, such as programs that exist overseas. If you ever come across resources that you think would be of interest to FW members please email them through to email@example.com. We are all about sharing oppourtunities…..
Franklin Women is very lucky to have a dedicated team of health researchers from around Sydney who volunteer to be a part of the FW NSW Peer Advisory Committee. You will know them if you are a regular at our events as they are the ones (in the very trendy FW polo shirts) making things happen. The Peer Advisory Committee meet monthly to talk about the organisation’s day-to-day activities, such as planning upcoming events, reviewing scholarship applications, newsletter content, career blogs … where we went on the weekend, etc., etc. We also try and leave time for some ‘bigger picture’ thinking but it always seems to get rolled over to next month’s agenda as there is just too much else to do.
We started this year with the realisation that, although FW has achieved so much, we wanted to do more and we wanted to do more really well. We all agreed that protecting some time for strategic thinking was too important to not be made a priority. Having this realisation was one thing, but to actually make it happen we needed some help (all we knew about organisational strategic planning was that it would involve some butcher’s paper and coloured pens). Elizabeth Foley, former CEO of Research Australia, and her husband Stephen Emmett, a management consultant specialising in strategic planning, board training and executive career coaching, came to our rescue and in February FW had its first strategic planning day. We found the whole process really valuable so we want to tell you a little bit about it - what we did, some of the outcomes for our FW community and some tips you might be able to make use of yourself.
So, what does one do at a strategic planning day?
- To start the day FW founder, Melina, gave an overview of the current status of the organisation (which really appealed to our scientific side – lots of numbers); for example, how many women have joined the Franklin Women community, what career stage and organisations they are from, etc.
- We also took the time to review our organisational ‘Mission’, ‘Aims’ and ‘Values’. This was important to do because it has been over a year since we launched and things have evolved as we have grown. (Want to know the difference between each of these concepts? A useful resource is here)
- One of the aims of the day was to acknoweldge the successes we have had but also to identify what has not been done so well and could be improved. This involved doing a SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) analysis. This was a large part of the day. (You can find some examples and template here)
- Lastly, all of the day’s discussions were brought together to identify goals for the next 1–3 years, which we then distilled out further into tangible actions. This was the hard part and where the value of having an external facilitator really was apparent.
What tips did we pick up from the day?
- Set the rules of engagement at the beginning of the session; from the role of the facilitators and participants, to making sure everyone feels welcome to share all ideas. There is no such thing as a bad idea at a strategic planning day!
- If you have the contacts/resources to have someone experienced and external facilitate the day – do it. Elizabeth and Stephen always kept us on track and offered great external perspectives on our thinking.
- Stay high-level. Many times during the day we would get distracted with the operational/ practicalities of things (i.e. how to do them) but that was not the point of the day.
- Numbers are great (and easy) to report on but it is also important to dedicate time to the qualitative side – what is at the ‘heart’ of the organisation and what are its core values. Although much harder to do, it really does underpin everything else.
- Be sure to have regular breaks (more towards the end of the day), which involve lots of food and tea served in the loveliest of teacups.
What does it all mean for FW?
- We happily reflected on how much more is being done to support women in science in Australia since FW launched in 2014. We took the strategic planning day as an opportunity to clearly identify where FW is adding value in this space. This is a framework we will use when planning our future initiatives to make sure we continue to fill gaps in supporting women in health research careers while complementing (not duplicating) other national and local initiatives. This is particularly important as we are run by volunteers and have limited resources so every event or activity we choose to progress comes at an opportunity cost.
- We acknowledged that to grow as an organisation and to offer the quality initiatives that we feel women in health research deserve, we need to consider additional revenue models above and beyond memberships in coming months, such as building partnerships with like-minded organisations.
- Some of the more tangible actions from the day included:
- Survey our members to ensure our events and initiatives continue to meet their needs. It is the support of our members that has got us this far and we want to make sure we continue to make a difference in their careers.
- To develop and seek feedback on a mentoring program for women in health research careers which utilises the diversity of the women who are part of the FW community.
- Update our organisational ‘Mission’ so that it reflects where we are now and where we are heading.
- Feedback to the FW community about our strategic planning day and its main outcomes – which we hope we are doing through this blog!
Not only was the planning day a success for Franklin Women as an organisation, it was also a nice reminder for us all on how this type of big picture thinking is important for our research teams or even for us as individuals. Have you thought about giving yourself a day to just think about your own career strategy – what is your direction, and what should you prioritise to help you get there? Maybe now is the time to think about strategic thinking....
Having recently gained my first ever permanent job as an academic in a Science Faculty (at the University of Wollongong) I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
As a PhD student and post-doc I remember the moments of terror associated with considering a life of short-term contracts and the unease of wondering if I would be able to do this wonderful job of science forever. After finishing my PhD I seriously considered exiting the world of research for a permanent job in management consultancy. Not because I had lost my drive and passion for science but because I doubted myself and my abilities and I didn’t know if I could make it as an academic.
I chose to keep going, to keep chasing the dream and I’m glad that I did. Looking back I think there are many essential traits required for a life in academia that my research training didn’t prepare me for (as well as many that did!). These lessons had to be learned quickly whilst migrating towards the position of principal investigator. The following are some of the aspects that, on reflection, I now consider pivotal in my career and I hope that sharing will help other early career researchers. More...
You may have heard of or even read a systematic review however you may not be familiar with the ins and outs of the process. There is a great synopsis published by the ‘What is…?’ series which I recommend for some more details. In short, it is myresponsibility to identify all relevant literature pertaining to a particular research question so that a non-biased assessment can be made. In theory, you can design a research question to answer any question (a personal favourite: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials assessing how effective parachutes are at preventing death!). In my role I most frequently answer clinical questions so would be looking to identify all clinical trials relating to a question. However, other common reviews include identification of evidence related to cost-effectiveness, health related quality of life and epidemiology. A systematic review can be broken down into the following steps: defining the research More...
The Franklin Women blog will be used as a platform for members to share what it is like to spend 'a day in their shoes'. This is a great way to showcase the different careers women trained in health sciences pursue and how they got there. So, I am going to start the ball rolling...
My name is Melina Georgousakis and I am a Senior Research Officer in the Policy Support team at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS). Before joining NCIRS nearly 5 years ago, I was a PhD student, then post-doc, at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (but I will tell you a bit more about that in coming blogs). I am also the founder of Franklin Women, which has resulted in a slight addiction to caffeine. You can read more on how Franklin Women (and the coffee addiction) came about in a recent blog I did for Women in Science AUSTRALIA.
For the last three days I have been in NZ attending the first Science Advice to Governments Conference so I thought I would use my first blog post to briefly introduce the concept of science policy. So, what is it? Science policy relates to the forming of public policies for issues underpinned by science. Examples include the development of policies for immunisation (my field), climate change, coal seam gas etc. As policies are part of the political process, many considerations inform their development. For science policies one of the main considerations (in most cases!) is the current scientific evidence on the issue at hand. The aim of the conference in NZ was to talk about the processes, mechanisms and challenges associated with providing advice on scientific issues to government and where the practice of evidence based science policies can be improved. Attendees included many of the players who provide science advice to governments including formal science advisors (eg Chief scientists), scientists and policy makers/analysts (those who turn the evidence provided by scientists into policies). You can see from the conference program the breadth of the topics discussed and also the sentiments expressed by participants in the conference blog. However, I have noted a few take home messages that resonated with me as a basic research scientist who now carries out research that informs health policies:
- There are many different mechanisms that offer opportunities for scientists to provide advice to governments. In Australia these are within government (chief scientists, science bureaus, government research institutes) and external to government (advisory bodies, commissioned research, consultations/submissions). A great overview can be found here.
- There is a difference between science for policy (research that informs the development of policies) and policy for science (policies that are put in place to better the science sector).
- Clear communication of science is important. For me, this resonated a lot and I think an area we scientists/researchers can do better. Ensuring we clearly communicate our research, and what it means in terms of the bigger picture, increases the likelihood that our research is understood and in turn has impact (where did this idea come from that if we throw around really big words it adds value to our work?).
- Collaboration between scientists and politicians is necessary. To get the most out of these interactions both parties need to show understanding, respect and empathy for the context within which the other works.
- Their needs to be more scientifically trained professionals providing science advice to Governments, both in and outside of Government settings. Throughout the conference examples of successful policy internships and graduate programs for scientists in place overseas were discussed as well as how similar programs could be built in Australia.
There are also two non-science take home messages from the conference I need to share….
One. Women are grossly underrepresented in the science policy space. Never before have I entered the room of a conference and the first thing that I noticed was that I was a women. The majority of participants were men over the age of 50 and few of the 5 panels included women. Why? Probably a few reasons like the fact that individuals typically take on science advisory roles later in their career (and we know women are underrepresented at the top in science due to a number of systematic/cultural reasons); and stereotypes around the type of person someone needs to be to work in politics. The good news is that numerous people in the audience (women and men) brought this to the attention of the conference organisers and I am sure it won’t be the same next time!
Two. I found my new science hero in Professor Anne Glover. I must have been living in a box for last 5 years as I didn't know who she was until she delivered her plenary "1000 days in the life of a Chief Scientific Adviser”. Anne is a molecular biologist and still has an academic position at the University of Aberdeen (as well as an honorary position at UNSW!). She was appointed the first Chief Science Advisor in Scotland in 2006 and in 2010 become the Chief Science Advisor to the President of the European Commission. As she delivered her plenary Anne was refreshingly honest, passionate, engaging and accessible. All these qualities did not take away one bit from the fact that she is intelligent, strong, and resilient, and can hold her own in a male dominated field.
Happy reading, Melina
Our mentoring breakfast in September was one of our most successful events yet with over 120 women in diverse health research careers joining us for breakfast at the QVB Tea Rooms. The aim of the morning was to start the conversation on how mentoring, sponsorship and even career coaching could play a larger part in the career progression for women in our field. And thanks to our guest speaker, leadership consultant Maud Lindley, our panel and our invited table mentors, that is exactly what happened. By the end of the morning we all left the room with the courage to go out and ask our dream mentor for coffee.
For Franklin Women, we also wanted to use this event to better understand how career development relationships, like mentors–mentees, are being utilised by women in our field and find out if their was more that can be done to facilitate this. We asked those who attended our breakfast to complete a small survey about just this and we thought you would be interested in the responses.
So what did we find? More...
If you are in the field of genetic research in Australia then you are no doubt aware of the Lorne Genome Conference held annually in Lorne, Victoria. Registrations for the 2015 meeting are now open, as are applications for numerous awards offered as part of the conference. These include the usual Travel, Student and ECR awards. However, this year they have launched a new award to acknowledge a women researcher within 10 years of PhD (full-time equivalent) who is excelling in the field of genome organisation and expression (and there is a $1000 prize!). The Lorne Genome Conference Women in Science Award will be awarded at next years conference in February.
It offers a wonderful opportunity to promote the excellent research done in this area by many female scientists. The financial prize will also be useful to assist in carrying out research or to attend a conference. At Franklin Women we are all about celebrating the wonderful contributions made by women in health and medical research and encouraging women to put themselves out there for the accolades they deserve - so what are you waiting for, get going on that application!!..
They close soon on 31st October. All the information can be found on the conference website and it has also been added to the list of resources in the members area of the FW website.
Good luck! FW
I am Juliette. I graduated in 2010 with a BSc in Microbiology from the University of East Anglia (UEA, UK). In between the parties, the contact hours would be recognisable to any biology graduate; lectures, seminars and lab work. My dissertation included a 10 week lab placement and write up attempting to determine one of the pathways associated with vancomycin resistance. I also took the opportunity to conduct 10 week lab placement during a summer holiday looking at the influence of various substances on muscle degeneration.
I enjoyed my three years at UEA greatly and left with three aims: (1) to never work in a lab, (2) to find a job where I could use my degree and (3) go travelling. After spending most of my life in education travelling was a high priority so done and dusted first. A year after graduating I started the job More...