HERG’s pre-doctoral research fellowships: what are our Ann McPherson Fellows doing now?
2 April 2019
Every year since 2010 the Health Experience Research Group (HERG) have recruited a recent graduate, contemplating a career in qualitative health research, as a pre-doctoral research fellow.
The post holder works with us for 12 months as a research assistant and also attends some of our HERG Qualitative Research Methods courses. Their work often includes supporting literature reviews, helping with focus groups, checking transcripts from in-depth interviews, helping to organise visiting speakers, co-authoring papers and preparing and presenting a paper for the British Sociological Association Medical Sociology Group conference.
HERG Director and NIHR Senior Investigator Professor Sue Ziebland 'HERG researchers are proud of this initiative which we self-fund through our courses programme. We always look for someone with enthusiasm and potential to benefit from the opportunity rather than those who have already had work experience and internships through well-connected friends and families'.
The scheme started in 2010 (funded by Sue Ziebland’s buy-out from her NIHR Programme Grant), and at the end of the first year HERG agreed to turn the fellowship into an annual call, funded through income generated by our Qualitative Research Methods courses. When our colleague Ann McPherson (GP, writer, campaigner and co-founder of healthtalk.org) died in 2011 the group decided to name the pre-doctoral post in her memory. Each year Ann’s husband Klim and her daughter Tess help us to short list and interview the applicants.
Since leaving HERG all of the Ann McPherson fellows have been successful in gaining doctoral studentships and other opportunities in a variety of academic settings. The 2017-18 fellow, Jade Howard, got in touch with her predecessors to find out what they had been doing since they left.
Abi Eccles, 2010-2011 fellow
'The post was a fantastic opportunity for me, providing on-the-job training in qualitative research methods. Whilst in the role I gained experience in transcript-checking, carrying out interviews, running focus groups, data analysis and designing research. More senior colleagues showed me support, listened to my ideas and encouraged me to complete my doctorate.
More senior colleagues showed me support, listened to my ideas and encouraged me to complete my doctorate.
Working as a HERG research assistant set me up to progress in my career as a qualitative researcher. I went on to complete my DPhil at the University of Oxford, and run an undergraduate module on the Sociology of Health and Illness at Oxford Brookes. I currently work as a Research Fellow in the Unit of Academic Primary Care at the University of Warwick.'
Kate Neal, 2012-2013 fellow
'I have incredibly fond memories of my time with HERG and the supportive team. The role gave me an incredible grounding in and experience of real-life research - all of the highs and lows of being a qualitative researcher.
The role gave me an incredible grounding in and experience of real-life research - all of the highs and lows of being a qualitative researcher.
This practical experience helped build my confidence and skills and I was delighted to be accepted to study for my PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London in medical sociology. My research explores the experiences of adults with congenital hemiplegia (a type of cerebral palsy) with a particular focus on narrative, identities and people's lived experiences.
I continue to spread the word about HERG and Healthtalk, and remain passionate about the importance of really listening to people's personal experiences of health, illness and all of the areas in between.'
Sophie pask, 2013-2014 fellow
The Ann McPherson Fellowship was a pivotal step in my career. As a post that encourages new researchers, it was the lead in to my academic journey.
'The Ann McPherson Fellowship was a pivotal step in my career. As a post that encourages new researchers, it was the lead in to my academic journey. In this role, I found my passion for qualitative research. Since the fellowship, I have continued to work in health research and moved to focus on palliative care. I have recently started as a PhD student at the Hull York Medical School, looking at how analgesics affect older adults’ cognition. The focus I have been able to find on my topic of interest stemmed from my experience on the fellowship, and the chances I had to work on such a variety of topics and with experienced researchers.'
Áine Kelly, 2014-2015 fellow
'Being offered the Ann McPherson fellowship was the best thing that ever happened to me. It allowed me to see how research works in the real world and I learned a whole range of research skills. I was offered a variety of tasks and got to attend a great training course that focused on interviewing people. My line manager told me that the NICE guideline development group for the Attachment needs of Children in Care were looking for lay members, and I was thrilled when I was offered the role. What’s more, my colleagues encouraged me to apply for a DPhil to look at the health of children and young people in local authority care – something I never believed I was clever enough to do. My line manager even did a mock interview with me. I was offered a DPhil in Education at the University of Oxford to explore the health experiences of young people (aged 11-18) in care. I also received a doctoral fellowship from the Wellcome Trust.
Being offered the Ann McPherson fellowship was the best thing that ever happened to me. It allowed me to see how research works in the real world and I learned a whole range of research skills.
My DPhil is a mixed-methods project: I used visual and creative research methods to look at the young people’s health experiences and I am also doing a statistical analysis on the national Children Looked After database to see if we can predict young people’s engagement with health services. When I started my DPhil, I was able to speak at a conference and from that I was offered a position to sit on a foster panel as an independent member. In January 2018 I was awarded a secondment fellowship from the Wellcome Trust to work in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology for 4 months. It was a great experience and allowed me to learn about the ways I can get my research into parliament.
In 2017 (and again for 2018) I organised Christmas for 40 Care Leavers (young people who have left care) who would otherwise be spending Christmas day alone. With the help of volunteers, we organise a venue, sort out transport for the guests, provide a range of activities throughout the day, give everyone gifts, and send everyone home with a food parcel. I am now a foster carer and I am looking after one of the young people that attended Christmas. When I finish my DPhil (my progress was delayed due to bereavement), I would like to apply for the Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue research on the health of children and young people in care, with a view to making recommendations to promote their health outcomes.'
Keira Pratt-Boyden, 2015-2016 fellow
'The fellowship provided me with valuable opportunities to build research and technical skills, all of which have been useful for my PhD. Working with the Health Experiences Research Group gave me insight into the diversity of people’s experiences of health services and a wider appreciation of the political and social forces which shape treatment approaches in the UK.
Working with the Health Experiences Research Group gave me insight into the diversity of people’s experiences of health services and a wider appreciation of the political and social forces which shape treatment approaches in the UK.
I value the supportive environment and lasting friendships she made throughout the fellowship.
Since finishing the Ann McPherson fellowship in September 2016, I worked as a research associate at Sussex University for the School of Education and Social Work. I am currently undertaking a PhD in Anthropology at Kent University with a graduate teaching scholarship. My PhD focusses on the construction of politics and care among mental health activists in London, looking at how individuals who reject health services re-configure therapeutic relationships by incorporating the ethics of care into everyday life.'
amadea turk, 2016-2017 fellow
'The fellowship was a fantastic and enjoyable experience through which I learned a great deal about primary care research through working with a range of colleagues across many different projects.
I received invaluable guidance and support from colleagues, in particular my line manager, to be able to develop the skills I needed to pursue a career in research.
I was involved in interviewing, focus groups, systematic reviews, to name a few, and was able to attend interesting seminars and workshops. I also received invaluable guidance and support from colleagues, in particular my line manager, to be able to develop the skills I needed to pursue a career in research. After my year as the Ann McPherson fellow I was appointed as a research associate at Warwick University Medical School. I hope to undertake a PhD in the near future examining the role of primary care in addressing the social determinants of health inequalities.'
jade howard, 2017-2018 fellow
'I joined HERG in October 2017. My year with HERG was full of fantastic experiences and generous opportunities to work with researchers across a range of projects, which gave me an insight into different aspects of the research process, and the procedures and politics of academic research.
My year with HERG was full of fantastic experiences and generous opportunities to work with researchers across a range of projects.
I undertook training in research methods and was supported by my excellent colleagues to develop skills and experience in qualitative health research. Whilst working at HERG, I secured a PhD studentship at the University of Aberdeen, where I am looking at patient and family experiences of inherited motor neurone disease. Nearing the end of my year at HERG, I was involved in appointing the next Ann McPherson Fellow, Emma Hyde, and am sure Ann’s influence will continue to be felt for years to come.'
EMMA HYDE, 2018-2019 FELLOW
I joined HERG as the Ann McPherson Fellow in 2018, and it was one of the most exciting, valuable, and memorable years of my life. I remember feeling incredibly nervous as I came to Oxford for the first time to interview for the post; I could never have imagined all the experiences I would gain, and the supportive colleagues I would meet. I received training in qualitative research, attended group analysis and writing days, gained teaching experience, and assisted on multiple projects. I also co-authored publications as part of the ‘DECODE’ project (exploring the unintended consequences of digital health interventions) and co-produced an online resource as part of the ‘INQUIRE’ project (using online patient feedback to improve care). I was also encouraged to explore my own research interests using the HERG Data Archive; I chose to conduct qualitative secondary analysis exploring the social dimensions of depression amongst young people. Having the opportunity to present this research at the 2019 BSA Medical Sociology Conference was a particular highlight.
I was then awarded a PhD scholarship at The School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds (exploring young people’s transitions to independence and wellbeing in the context of austerity and recession). The Ann McPherson fellowship gave me the skills and confidence I needed for a career in research, and I am so grateful for the experience.
Amelia talbot, 2019-2020 FELLOW
I was the Ann McPherson Fellow for 2019-20. Among my highlights were attending Sutton Courtenay's writing retreat and publishing my first paper on overweight and long-term conditions. Now I am a DPhil student at MS&HERG studying treatment-resistant depression. I believe the Ann McPherson Fellowship boosted my application. Upon completion of my DPhil, I plan to apply for a Mildred Blaxter fellowship to continue my research on treatment-resistant mental health conditions.