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Sarah Tonkin-Crine, Veronika Williams, Lisa Hinton and Trish GreenhalghSarah Tonkin-Crine, Veronika Williams, Lisa Hinton and Trish GreenhalghWhat does it mean to be a social scientist in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences? How many of us are there and what are we all up to? These were the questions that the Social Sciences in Primary Care Conference, organised by Trish Greenhalgh, Lisa Hinton, Veronika Williams and Sarah Tonkin-Crine and held on Friday 10 May, set out to address. 

The day was split in two: the morning and early afternoon consisted of short presentations sharing department work, and the late afternoon was made up of group work. We shared ideas for how to improve support for social science DPhil students, develop the careers of early and mid-career researchers, and develop the overall social science strategy.

Incoming Professor Catherine Pope provided a fascinating and energising keynote, sharing both her work on help-seeking in urgent care, and the nuts and bolts behind her methods and the realities of qualitative research.

Incoming professor Cathy Pope delivers an energising keynote.Incoming professor Cathy Pope delivers an energising keynote.


The short talks varied wildly in topic, approach and methods, united only in their ambition. From developing an allergy testing intervention for pencillin, to navigating social prescribing, falsified medicines, and barriers to access for gender-diverse young people, to the role of paper in trials and even the Cochrane crisis. Sociology, psychology and anthropology were all well-represented, with only economics (to my shame) keeping quiet.


Fortunately there’s always next time. The discussion groups were universal in wanting to make this day a regular event, and in looking for more opportunities for social scientists to meet and share ideas. The EMCR discussion group raised the importance of being activists and advocates in our work, bringing the value of social sciences to bear on the wider research in the department. This will be contingent on a strong support network for social scientists at all levels.

This has already begun with the Conversations in Social Theory discussion group (contact Alex Rushforth for information), but more general spaces such as journal clubs and social science mornings were also highlighted.

Probably the single most useful outcome of the day was realising how valuable it is to have time together as social scientists. We are largely dispersed throughout the departmental research groups, but coming together sparks not just ideas but ambition. The day showed that groundbreaking work is already being done in the spaces between clinical research. Just think what could be achieved with more collaboration.

Overall the day felt like the start of a new era for social science in Primary Care. If you missed out this time, don’t worry, more is coming. As Lisa Hinton said, we’ve definitely reached critical mass. If this day is any indication, the future is bright for social sciences in the department.

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