5 pieces of career advice for dementia researchers from leaders in the field

We spoke to leading researchers, Professor Nick Fox and Dr Carole Sudre, to discuss grant-writing tips, staying motivated and what it is like to be an Alzheimer's Society funded researcher.

Interview with Nick and Carole

Introducing Nick and Carole

Nick Fox is a Professor of Clinical Neurology, a Consultant Neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and is the director of the Dementia Research Centre.

Nick was awarded one of our first research fellowships in 1993. Since then he has become a leading light in dementia research. His work in neuroimaging has improved early detection, diagnosis and monitoring of disease progression in dementia.

Dr Carole Sudre was awarded a junior fellowship by the Society in 2017/18. Her research is focused on the relationship between damage to blood vessels of the brain and deficits in cognition. She uses artificial intelligence to predict how the blood vessel damage will progress, vital information for the neurologist.

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1. Believe

As an early career researcher, believing in your work is key to making a mark in dementia research. Staying enthusiastic about your research will allow you to communicate the importance of it.

Nick: 'It is vital to stay grounded and to always ask yourself the question, which the reviewers of your research will ask, which is "so what?"'

What makes your research important?

Carole: 'When you believe in your project and you are motivated and enthusiastic about it, you will always find a way to make people understand why it is so important to do.'

2. Person, project, place

Several aspects are important to consider when writing a grant application. Your CV, together with the structure of the project and a supportive environment, are all essential.

In terms of your project proposal, it is important to be realistic about getting good results, while at the same time be ambitious and show that you have creative and exciting ideas.

Carole: 'The way to manage that is to say very clearly ‘I know I can do this bit, part one, that is really solid, and part two, is much more exploratory or much more ambitious but that is exciting. A balance of something that is achievable and safe, and something that is riskier but very exciting.'

It is equally important to find out as much as you can about the institution that you would like to work in.

You could talk to people who currently work there or have previously worked there.

This will help you to make sure you will be in the right environment to support your work. 

Nick: 'Research funders want to know that your environment is going to support you, train you and help to develop your potential… I would advise being careful not to neglect that part of your application.'

3. Staying motivated

Staying motivated can be difficult in the field of research. There are many challenges, from grant applications being rejected, to your day-to-day experiments going wrong.

Nick and Carole emphasise that this is a normal part of being a research scientist. The most important thing is to learn from those experiences. Identifying how you can improve the next time helps you produce good quality science.

Carole: 'Consider how the reviewers have perceived your work, what didn’t they like and why. Try and understand what could be improved on and how.'

Nick: 'So often it is very hard not to take rejection as a very hard personal knock… sometimes you can have the same grant application go in to two equally prestigious funding bodies, one might reject it and you won’t even get an interview and the other one you get it.'

There is an element of just keep on trying, be determined.

4. Working with the Society

As a funded researcher of the Society, working with staff and volunteers in such a supportive environment can make you feel more connected to your work.

The Research Network volunteers are a huge part of Alzheimer’s Society. Communicating with the Network can help remind you of the bigger picture and the reasons you are doing your research.

Nick: 'From my very first interactions with the Society, I have found both the staff and volunteers to be really committed people who want to make a difference, that it is more than "just a job" to them.'

Carole: 'Working with the Society puts a lot more meaning into the research. I come out of these meetings wanting more than ever to make a difference.'

5. Sharing your research

Sharing and communicating your work is an important part of being a research scientist. This could be with many different people, ranging from school children, to people affected by dementia, and health professionals.

While it can be challenging, this communication can have a positive impact on your audience and yourself.

Nick: 'Very early on, when I was first starting out, I was speaking in Sheffield. The gentleman who collected me from the station said, "It’s important to improve diagnosis. Let me tell you about the agony of not knowing" and that has stuck with me ever since.'

I’ve had some really thought-provoking conversations, questions and great insights from talking to people affected by dementia.

Carole: 'I have had some wonderful experiences trying to explain my research to school children. The challenge there is to explain it in such a way that it is exciting and understandable.'

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