Research Network volunteers, Annabella and Kate, were monitors for the Scotland Doctoral Training Centre. Here they share their experience of being involved in the programme.
In 2015, Alzheimer’s Society established eight Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs) around the UK to support PhD students in specialised, linked areas of dementia research.
Over the last five years, we have monitored the Scotland Doctoral Training Centre, which has been an engaging and inspiring experience.
The Scotland DTC included four universities - Aberdeen, Dundee, St. Andrews and Edinburgh – each with a principal investigator. Nine students enrolled across the four universities with intake staggered over two years.
The focus of the Scottish centre was on identifying ‘Metabolic and Vascular Contributors to Dementia’. The students explored the relationship between blood flow and the changes in the brain causing Alzheimer’s disease.
Some investigated the role of diet in regulating blood flow to the brain, others looked at the effects of drugs to alter blood flow and genetic factors in disease development.
We met the researchers annually at each of the universities and all projects are now complete or near completion.
Our initial impressions were of a motivated and integrated group - research-active principal investigators and capable, enthusiastic students.
On each visit we were warmly welcomed and saw student presentations of a consistently high standard. The students always noted the value of our involvement as monitors for the development of their communication skills, and their ability to deliver complex scientific information to a lay audience.
A collaborative approach
Students held regular cross-university group meetings and used telephone or videoconferencing for supervision and support. They gained useful experience in publicly facing contexts, such as the Dundee Science Festival and The Scottish Dementia Network meeting.
It was obvious over time that the cross-university groups provided an extremely active, supportive environment for the students. The benefits of such a collaborative approach were clear in the confident discussions that students had with each other and senior researchers.
Principal Investigators expressed their satisfaction at the success of the coordinated approach, from the development of these collaborations, to the exchange of ideas, expertise and support, and ultimately final results.
The environment of this DTC programme fostered the students’ development in research and provided access to wider networks.
The shared approach, which extended to peer support for the second intake group, regularly helped to overcome technical challenges or provide critical advice.
Developing dementia research leaders
The quality of research achieved is evident in the insightful results of the doctoral projects and confirmed by the above average ratio of students committing themselves to remaining in research. Already, some of the first intake have posts in this research area, and others plan to seek roles related to their research.
The DTC in Scotland has been an excellent platform to engage and develop young researchers in the field of dementia.
It was clear the model facilitates a collaborative, cross-disciplinary network and has been outstandingly successful in developing shared academic enquiry and fostering future scientific researchers within the field of dementia – a key aim of Alzheimer’s Society.
The impact of the programme on the students’ future careers and roles within the dementia research community can now be followed by the Society. We hope that if the DTC model is shown to have a sustained and positive effect in terms of future career development, leading to an increase in dementia research and collaboration, that support for the model is re-considered.
We also look forward to hearing the experience and views of other monitors of DTC projects in their area.
Our Doctoral Training Centres
Find out more about the groundbreaking research of our eight Doctoral Training Centres across the UK.