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by Evan Kontopantelis (Manchester) and Fiona Stevenson (UCL)

The statistician’s point of view (Evan)

I am always wary of courses and training. To my cynical psyche, well-known to those who work with me, they can be any or all of the following: chariots for trainers to tick boxes and promote their careers; 10-15 minute talks that get overstretched to 5 hours to waste everyone’s time and drown their usefulness; time invested wrongly since the career benefit from doing “real” work instead would have been greater.

So imagine my surprise when I found the Oxford International Primary Care Research Leadership Programme was none of the above and it felt that it was time (yes a whole week!) well spent. That says something when coming from someone who cannot stand meetings that go over the 60 minute mark and considers an ideal meeting one that does not take place.

The course was very well organised and did touch on the theories of leadership but also practically explore the subject. The credentials of the presenters did reflect on the quality of the presentations, which were overall excellent. The food and drink were nice too!

More important though was the surprise element. We were not really treated as individuals, but rather as “cohort #10”. Unknown to us beforehand was the key outcome of the course: to make us work as a collaborative self-supporting groups of researchers at a similar level in our careers. The benefits from such a “bonding” exercise are obvious ranging from independent advice on work issues to research collaborations.

A side-effect for me was discussing with qualitative researchers (or rather trying to get a word in) in a collaborative and career reflecting context for probably the first time. The cohort was more qualitative than quantitative, which apparently was a first. There were lots of feelings involved and long irrelevant monologues (“I just asked what time it is, what does the editorial policy of the BMJ have to do with that?”). On the other hand I am now tempted not to dismiss qualitative research as irrelevant immediately. I may give it a chance, since some of the people doing it seem rather intelligent (although not always coherent…).

I am feeling very positive about the impact of the course on my career. The lessons I learnt will come in handy but I hope “cohort #10” will be the real gold in this whole exercise.

And the view from a qualitative researcher (Fiona)

This course was shrouded in mystery, we knew we were “cohort #10” but did not know what the week would entail or who are fellow members were until we arrived on Sunday evening.  As a sociologist and qualitative researcher I was relieved to discover that three of our group of seven did qualitative work (wishful thinking from my statistician colleague that qualitative researchers were in the majority!) and that we came from a range of disciplines with only three members being medically qualified.

Two sessions really stood out from me.  The session using the The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment –  a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions –  which we had all completed prior to the course, and from which we ‘discovered’ our own personality.  I remain mildly sceptical about a tool I struggled so hard to answer (being a qualitative researcher I found the necessary categorising very challenging), however the resulting discussion and group working proved a fantastic source of group bonding, hilarity and provided insights into each other’s lives that we may never have otherwise gained.  It was also a great way of considering different types of people in an organisation and the range of strategies needed for good leadership.  We also bonded over the terrifying, but very valuable, experience of being interviewed and filmed by professional journalists, and then all viewing the results.  One of those things you are glad you have done, but only after the event!

The talks came from a range of speakers, from a range of backgrounds, yet there was something to take away from every session, such as becoming more social media savvy, a message my home research unit (eHealth at UCL) will pleased to hear I am finally trying to engage with.

In summary though I believe meeting and working with my fellow cohort members (including a statistician) will prove to be the most enduring benefit of the programme and I have high hopes of our next formal meeting in September 2016.

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From left to right: Fiona Stevenson, Iveta Nagyova, Konrad Schmidt, Deborah Swinglehurst, Katrina Turner, Clare Heal and Evan Kontopantelis enjoying a post-course drink at the Lamb & Flag pub, Oxford, on Friday evening.

Evan is Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Primary Care Institute of Population Health, University of Manchester. He is currently working on three SPCR funded projects:
1. An investigation of the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) using the general practice research database (GPRD). 2. An analytical framework for increasing the efficiency and validity of research using primary care databases. 3. Quantifying undetected heterogeneity in meta-analyses and developing an improved analytical framework.

Fiona Stevenson is Senior Lecturer in Primary Care & Population Health at University College London.
She is currently working on a SPCR study that looks at patient investigation in UG medical education in general practice. Fiona is also the SPCR Patient and Public Involvement Lead at UCL.

SPCR news: Fostering and developing future leaders in primary care research

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