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Lucy Chapman

Networking & building connections as an early career researcher

By Caitlin Wilson (Twitter: @999_Caitlin), Dr Fiona Bell (@fionablairbell) & Professor Julia Williams (@DrJuliaWilliams)

Undertaking a PhD is about developing a researcher identity. Traditionally, this occurred through one-to-one mentor relationships, which often continued throughout a researcher’s career. However, nowadays early career researchers need to gain experience and develop connections with multiple people through networking (Ansmann et al., 2014). In fact, a study by Wolff and Moser (2009) suggests that networking is related to career progression and career satisfaction across a multitude of sectors.

PhDs can often be an isolating experience (Cantor, 2020), something which has undoubtedly been emphasized through the COVID19 pandemic and subsequent working from home, but intentional networking has been key to my PhD journey so far. Within this blog post, I share my experience of networking as an early career researcher, with valuable input from Dr Fiona Bell, Head of Research at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, and Professor Julia Williams, Head of Research at the College of Paramedics.

  1. Social media

Without social media I would not be a PhD student at the NIHR Yorkshire and Humber Patient Safety Translational Research Centre. It was through a re-tweet from @fionablairbell in March 2019 that I became aware of this amazing opportunity. The trick to Twitter and other social media platforms such as ResearchGate, LinkedIn etc., is to follow key people in your area of interest.

  1. Networking with peers

As an experienced clinician, I am fortunate to be surrounded by supportive colleagues, many of whom I would call friends. However, my peer network extends beyond those geographically close to me or those who I work with clinically. Seminars, workshops, conferences, webinars and courses both virtually and face-to-face have allowed me to connect with many people who I would consider peers. I perceive the value of these networking relationships to often be higher than the course content.

  1. Near-to-peer mentoring

In addition to peer-to-peer networking, there is a great benefit to connecting with people who are slightly ahead of you in your journey as an early career researcher. These are the people to contact when you have a question you feel is too trivial for your supervisors or just need a word of encouragement that it is indeed possible to survive your PhD.

  1. Networking with NHS organisations

Expertise, knowledge and enthusiasm for any topic are generally not centrally held in any NHS organisation. NHS ambulance services cover large geographies and have staff spread across their region delivering care in the community. Therefore, networking in this setting is really key to getting to the ‘right’ people to support you research area. It pays to attend internal meetings at the planning stage to get buy-in and engagement with key stakeholders who have existing connections and can advocate for you through established formal or informal connections. Keeping the whole network updated ensures that association is not lost when people or services change, and allows your network to evolve as the project develops.

  1. Networking with networks

Within your area of practice, there will already be formal networks and organisations, which researchers at any level can access to forge links and make new contacts. For me, this was the Research Centre at the College of Paramedics, but also included collaboration across other disciplines and professions, such as within the YH PSTRC. Research is stronger when developed in teams, so get involved in different research-focused organisations wherever and whenever you can. Often opportunities emerge through these contacts, which could help strengthen your networking activities as well as develop your research knowledge and expertise.

To further explore the topic of early career researcher identity and networking, I have been granted an NIHR Short Placement Award for Research Collaboration (SPARC) supervised by Professor Julia Williams, in her capacity as paramedic-lead for the NIHR Incubator for Emergency Care. Although it is a ‘short’ placement award, the virtual nature of the placement is allowing for a more flexible approach throughout 2021/22, during which I plan to establish an online forum for paramedic researchers, where networking, mentoring and collaborating will be encouraged and supported.


Ansmann, L., Flickinger, T.E., Barello, S., Kunneman, M., Mantwill, S., Quilligan, S., Zanini, C. and Aelbrecht, K. 2014. Career development for early career academics: Benefits of networking and the role of professional societies. Patient Education and Counseling. 97(1), pp.132-134.

Cantor, G. 2020. The loneliness of the long-distance (PhD) researcher. Psychodynamic Practice. 26(1), pp.56-67.

Wolff, H.-G. and Moser, K. 2009. Effects of networking on career success: A longitudinal study. Journal of Applied Psychology. 94(1), pp.196-206.

Are medical device regulations safe?

Photo by Svilen Milev from FreeImages


Existing provision of regulations for medical devices may be insufficient for the digital age.  In our recent paper, we argue that the complexity of healthcare information systems is not being acknowledged and incorporated in the design of many regulations and standards.

National Institute for Care Excellence (NICE) guidance from 2015 promoted the use of QRISK2. This computerised tool calculated someone’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. It was designed, developed and approved in accordance with the safety guidelines at the time. But by 2016, the regulatory agency in the UK raised an alert about the use of the computerised tool in some practices.

Thankfully, the errors in the risk calculated by QRISK2 were minimal. The UK’s commitment to electronic health systems were leveraged to track down the source of the problem and follow up with patients. Although the connectivity of the UK’s increasingly-digitised healthcare system helped to remedy some safety concerns, its connectedness can also be a cause for concern.

What’s the problem?

Perhaps the biggest problem faced by regulators of medical devices is that there isn’t just a single problem to solve. Healthcare is an ever-changing and complex system, where not only the parts need to be considered, but their interactions, too. With so many dynamic interacting parts, it can be practically impossible and hubristic to think we can observe and control everything.

Designed by vector_corp, available at Freepik


Many standards are available but are not compulsory. For example, decisions made by the European Union in the 1980s separated law and technical standards, which makes it difficult to enforce standards (1). Even if standards were enforceable, they often don’t acknowledge the contemporary systemic and connected ecology of medical devices in the age of digital health and Healthcare 4.0 (2).

Are regulations safe for patients?

It has become increasingly apparent that existing regulation of medical devices is insufficient for the digital age, despite progress in the European Union’s Medical Device Regulation (3). In our paper, we argue that the complexity of healthcare information systems is not being acknowledged and incorporated in the design of many regulations and standards (4).

Medical device regulations were initially created for hardware devices rather than software and offer one-shot approvals rather than supporting iterative innovation and learning. Such iterative development has been the keystone to agile methods in product and service innovation that enable timely responsiveness to emerging contexts. A further issue with many medical device regulations is the bias toward loss-transfer approaches that attempt to manage the fallout of harm instead of mitigating hazards becoming harmful. This often manifests as bias toward known hazards, despite unknown hazards being an expected consequence of health care as a complex adaptive system.

What’s being done about it?

Despite the aforementioned concerns, many theoretical and practical strategies have been proposed to improve the provision of effective medical devices in a safe and timely manner. In our paper, we summarise nine recommendations that focus on embedding less-reductionist and stronger systemic perspectives into regulations and standards (4). These recommendations include a Safety II perspective of risk (5), systemic models of accident and safety (6–8), realignment of standards and regulations, and gradual approval of devices. Frameworks like Idea-Development-Exploration-Assessment-Long-term-study (IDEAL) are examples of gradual approval processes that have shown some effectiveness (9).

Advocates for digital health care about its speed, coverage, and capacity but perhaps without considering its own suite of challenges (10) and safety concerns, e.g. underuse, misuse or abuse due to lack of training and improper integration. Future development of regulations should make it easier for clinical and academic institutions like the NIHR PSTRCs to produce healthcare information technology in a way that contributes state-of-the-art patient care and safety science insight.

How can I get involved?

What other recommendations would you like to see? What other ways are there to foster the production of healthcare products that are simultaneously effective and safe? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below or joining in on the conversation on Twitter.


  1. Altenstetter C. EU and member state medical devices regulation. Int J Technol Assess Health Care. 2003;1(2003):228–48.
  2. Aceto G, Persico V, Pescapé A. Industry 4.0 and Health: Internet of Things, Big Data, and Cloud Computing. J Ind Inf Integr [Internet]. 2020;18(February 2019):100129. Available from:
  3. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. An introductory guide to the medical device regulation (MDR) and the in vitro diagnostic medical device regulation (IVDR) [Internet]. 2020. Available from:
  4. McInerney CD, Scott B, Johnson OA. Are regulations safe? Reflections from developing a digital cancer decision support tool. JCO Clin Cancer Informatics. 2021;353–63.
  5. Hollnagel E. Safety-I and safety-II: the past and future of safety management. Ashgate; 2018.
  6. Ravitz AD, Sapirstein A, Pham JC, Doyle PA. Systems approach and systems engineering applied to health care: Improving patient safety and health care delivery. Johns Hopkins APL Tech Dig (Applied Phys Lab. 2013;31(4):354–65.
  7. Underwood P, Waterson P. Systemic accident analysis: Examining the gap between research and practice. Accid Anal Prev [Internet]. 2013;55:154–64. Available from:
  8. Leveson NG. A new accident model for engineering safer systems. Saf Sci. 2004;42(4):237–70.
  9. Hirst A, Philippou Y, Blazeby J, Campbell B, Campbell M, Feinberg J, et al. No Surgical Innovation Without Evaluation: Evolution and Further Development of the IDEAL Framework and Recommendations. Ann Surg. 2019;269(2):211–20.
  10. Sittig DF, Wright A, Coiera E, Magrabi F, Ratwani R, Bates DW, et al. Current challenges in health information technology–related patient safety. Health Informatics J. 2020;26(1):181–9.


Research Participation Experience

By Isabel Hague and Chloe Grindey –  Research Assistants, NIHR Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC

The Y&H PSTRC has been collaborating with Care Opinion to build a research community of people (patients, carers and other members of the public) who have written stories on the Care Opinion site. We have been trying to understand what people want when they are involved in research to help us plan for how we as researchers can meet these needs. We were also keen to find out if there are existing criteria for assessing the quality of research from a participant’s perspective.

As part of this process, we conducted a rapid review of the literature in this area. The full report can be found here. Here we report a brief summary.

We began by searching Google scholar with the appropriate terms including ‘communicating results to patients’, and ‘health research participation.’ After identifying seemingly relevant articles and searching their reference lists for additional research, thirty-two papers were added to a spreadsheet and subsequently refined by the authors and RL. We excluded those which discussed patient involvement in research design and the disclosure of individual clinical results (as Care Opinion would not be used for the recruitment of patients to clinical trials), which culminated in a final set of eleven papers for review, employing both quantitative and qualitative methods and of which we were confident were pertinent in answering the research questions.

Our analysis revealed strong evidence that patients want to know the findings of research they are involved in. Evidence was less consistent in indicating a preferred means of communication of these findings, although patients generally favoured individualised modes of contact. Literature indicating whether or not patients are interested in knowing the impact of the research was also minimal. In terms of what they want during their involvement, patients emphasised the importance of building a trusting and respectful relationship with the researchers, clear communication throughout the entirety of the investigative process, and quality of care that is at least consistent with standard healthcare practice.

There was an absence of literature that could directly inform the development of criteria to measure the quality of a patient’s research experience. However, we argue that such criteria could be inferred indirectly from the above research. For example, patients often reported an altruistic motivation for involvement in research, so it would make sense to conclude that being informed of the outcome or impact of their involvement would be desirable for them. Although none of the articles we identified included validated measures of patients participation experience, some asked questions of participants that might be useful in future surveys of this kind. For example, one asked if participants would recommend research involvement to a friend or family member and how useful the consent forms were in preparing them for their participation. Another paper used open-ended questions to assess involvement experience, such as ‘How did you find it talking about the issues in this study,’ or ‘How do you feel about research in this area.’ Such questions could be adapted into generalised involvement experience criteria.

This was a rapid review which has obvious limitations. If readers are aware of other literature that is directly relevant to our aims, please do get in touch with Rebecca Lawton at or @LawtonRebecca. We will be sure to acknowledge your contribution.