Coming to the end of my SPCR research training fellowship, I have had the opportunity to reflect back on my training whilst being based at the University of Southampton Primary Care and Public Health.  Besides the support from the SPCR and my supervisors Professors George Lewith and Michael Moore, the department’s REACH group has been instrumental in providing a more informal network of support throughout my doctoral training.


REACH (Research Education Advice and Communication in Health) was initially set up in 2007 and is an interdisciplinary group of ERE and MSA staff, all working in primary care research and who meet regularly to discuss research interests and identify training needs.  A key strength of the group is its varied membership as the group includes trial and research managers, GPs, psychologists, sociologists, complementary medicine practitioners and methodologists such as qualitative researchers, statisticians and health economists.  For me, the monthly REACH meetings provide a fantastic opportunity to hear more about the range of research methodologies and studies that are going on within the department as well as to be kept up to date on clinical trials management and regulatory issues.  These meetings also offer a unique platform to present research ideas or to report on findings in a supportive and open environment.  This was particularly important for my PhD which involved conducting a pilot study.  Being able to tap into this knowledge and experience helped my project for example by identifying or anticipating barriers to recruitment, or by refining eligibility criteria to ensure study findings would be more generalisable.  However, it also gave me the opportunity to present to a multi-disciplinary audience and I was constantly encouraged to look at my project from different perspectives.  As well as monthly meetings, annual training retreats are also conducted and which are usually off-site.  These enable more reflective discussion of key issues relevant to the group and also allow time for in-depth training courses in transferable skills to be offered such as team-building and leadership which may not be available through the university.

As with any group meetings, REACH relies on its organising committee, a team of REACH members, to keep these activities functioning.  There are many activities in REACH that each committee member has a role in playing, from organising the speakers, facilities and catering for each monthly meeting and each annual retreat, to managing and updating the website and Twitter feed.  To help with this, the committee meets every quarter to discuss any issues and to brainstorm ideas for the group.  I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to be chair of this committee in the last few months.  It has been great to get into another role within the department with different responsibilities, but it has also been a lot of fun working with like-minded individuals who are enthusiastic and keen to contribute!

This learning environment that REACH has created has been invaluable in shaping not only my project but also me as a researcher – an integral part of any training fellowship.  Although REACH has been an incredible resource throughout my PhD, I can also see the wider benefits in terms of impact on the academic environment.  This kind of forum fosters collaboration within the unit, stimulates constructive debate about our own research and can act as an incubator for some exceptionally novel research ideas.  I very much hope to see it continue to grow in years to come as new staff and students join our unit!

To read more about what the REACH group do, please visit our website:


Or follow us on Twitter:


Jan 2012 Red Professional Close Up

Lily Lai

University of Southampton

Primary Care and Population Sciences

E: l.y.w.lai@southampton.ac.uk

Twitter: @lilylai

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