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Martina Curtin

Clinical Research MRes
Martina Curtin

Martina is studying the MRes in Clinical Research. She chose this course to become a clinical academic and further her skills in research.

Your motivations, drivers and challenges

What was your main motivation to undertake postgraduate study?

I'm a specialist Speech and Language Therapist working in the NHS. I wanted to undertake postgraduate study to become a clinical academic and further my skills in research. As a clinician, I want to provide the children I see with the most effective input, which in turn should have the greatest impact on their lives. The MRes in Clinical Research was the perfect first step in upskilling in evidence-based practice.

What were the main challenges that affected your decision about postgraduate study? How did you overcome them?

I had to talk extensively with my employer about how the 50/50 split would work between work and study. We needed to ensure that undertaking the MRes would not have an impact on my colleagues or the children/families I see. I’m very lucky to have managers that value the worth of having a clinician skilled in research within the team.

Time management was also a concern of mine, i.e. would I have a life outside of work and university? I figured I would as long as I remained organised. I had such a drive to start studying again that I knew I would find a way.

Why did you choose City?  What made you decide City was the right university for you?

The main pull factor was City’s affiliation with the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). The NIHR had 10 scholarships for the MRes course. I applied for the scholarship via City and was accepted, meaning my course fees were paid for.

In addition to this, I trained as a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) at City and already knew how exceptional the teaching staff were there. I follow many of the academics in the Division of Language and Communication Science on Twitter. I read their research and attend their seminars and talks regularly. Dr Madeline Cruice was named as module leader of the MRes at that time. She taught me as a trainee SLT and so I knew I would be in good hands.

Your student experience

What has been your student experience at City so far?

Our lecturers are active researchers (known nationally and internationally) and so their knowledge and expertise is incredible. Teaching is purposeful and relatable to our working life as clinicians and novice researchers.

The spaces we are taught in are all very swish too, especially now with all the modernisation! There are so many different types of work spaces available and lots of computers too; it makes student life very easy. The library and all the available resources are brilliant. I’ve always been able to find the resources I’ve needed, and anything the library doesn’t have, you can request.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the other students in the MRes cohort and supporting them in my role as part-time student representative. Everyone is very friendly, supportive and keen to work together!

I feel very safe around the University, even when working late at night. Security patrol the 24 hour areas.

Lastly, food and drink prices are very reasonable here.

How has studying a postgraduate degree helped you develop personally and professionally?

Whilst on the MRes course, I got a promotion at work. I feel that my dedication in promoting research at work (learnt at City) played a part in achieving this. Since starting the course, I feel I am more considered. I seek information and ask questions before I act, and review and analyse most of my decisions with far more care. My organisational and multi-tasking skills are the best I think I’ve ever seen them, both in terms of meeting deadlines at work, at the university, and making sure I fit in time for family and friends. It doesn’t go without stress, but I’ve learnt to channel that positively by seeking out stress-relievers such as gym classes, talking to loved ones and weekends away.

I’ve learnt that the academic world can be a very supportive environment; the City staff are testament to this fact. In response, I feel that I am now more supportive and encouraging to those around me: I share news, events and helpful resources with colleagues, I’ve run a journal club at work to skill up other therapists in critical appraisal, and I help run the Clinical Excellence Network for SLTs in Deafness. These activities make me feel like I’m passing the knowledge on and promoting the research work of others.

What skills and knowledge do you think the course has helped you develop?

I feel strongly that the MRes was the perfect career move for me. It has given me a huge amount of motivation to create my own path in clinical research and though I am still a novice, the course has equipped me with a good level of knowledge and skills in quantitative and qualitative research methods and data analysis.

Being able to critically appraise research has strengthened my work as a clinician. I am thinking far more of the ‘so what?’ element of my therapy at work: is what I’m doing really making a difference? What is the biggest difference I can make and how can I measure this? The course has provided me with the skills to begin to answer these questions and I look forward to seeing more positive effects of having research embedded into my practice.

I know more now about the issues that develop from real-life research in clinical settings and I understand the challenges that come with having a dual role. Yet despite this, I can recognise the value of being a clinician active in research, not just for my own personal development, but for the benefit to patients receiving my input.

What opportunities and experiences has City offered you during your course?

One of the modules of the MRes involves undertaking a research placement. I did mine at The Deafness, Cognition and Language (DCAL) Research Centre, Europe's biggest research centre in deafness. Whilst there, I learnt so much more about how the research world works.

I assisted one researcher, Dr Rosalind Herman (also a Reader at City), with the analysis of some data. Dr Herman then offered for me to co-present the data with her at the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists’ National Conference in Glasgow. Of course I jumped at the chance and enjoyed the experience immensely! Without that module, none of those amazing opportunities would have transpired.

After the placement had finished, I was sent a link from Dr Herman, encouraging me to submit an abstract to present my own MRes research at a different conference. I'm waiting to hear if I've been accepted, but without the experiences on placement and the teaching received on the MRes, I don't think I would have had the confidence to submit my work.

It’s been an interesting experience representing my cohort as student representative. It has provided another insight into how caring and passionate the staff are at City, ensuring courses and modules are run well, and students are happy with the experience. I’ve really enjoyed working with the relevant City staff to problem-solve concerns and celebrate the successes.

What advice would you give to people thinking about postgraduate study? What would you have liked to know then that you know now?

Go for it! If you are lucky enough to be in the position to take on postgraduate study, then do so (and at City)!

Before applying, I went to an Open Evening and spoke to the course module leader. I also spoke to colleagues who had completed the course to see how challenging it might be. This enabled me to be more informed about my decision and the challenges and benefits of the course.

What would I have liked to know then that I know now? That I would love the course, far more than I thought and that it would have a real, worthwhile impact on the work I do in the NHS.

Your future

What are your career plans once you have completed your postgraduate degree?

I'm carrying out the MRes part time, so I still work as a Speech and Language Therapist for the NHS for half the week. I will be continuing my NHS role, but in time, I would like to return to the world of research and I am currently looking at future funding options to help me achieve this goal. I’d really like to do a PhD and City is top of the list in terms of where to study for this.

How do you think City has equipped you for the next stage in your career journey?

I feel like I know enough to return to work and make changes to my practice. I’d like to help managers with clinical audits and continue with the running of our journal club. I’d like to talk to parents and ask them what questions they have that need answering. I’d also like to start carrying out case studies of interesting patients and build up evidence that way.

I know I am still a novice researcher and there is a lot I still don’t know, but the course has helped me identify the gaps I have and has inspired me to develop my skills in those areas. I want to be a clinical academic leader in my field one day, and the MRes course has been the perfect foundation for me to leap from to achieve this.