Mia Alexander is a 4th year Medical Sciences student at Exeter University. She has been working on a placement with our ImPROving GROUP treatment for people with severe obesity project (PROGROUP). In this blog for NIHR’s Your Path in Research Campaign she tells us about the research path she’s been following and where she hopes it will take her.
My journey to applied health research
I wasn’t ready for my third undergraduate year to be my final one, so as lab research isn’t for me, I applied for health research-based project placements and chose one with PROGROUP. I’ve always had an interest in obesity and PROGROUP is a really interesting perspective on weight management programmes. I’ve been studying the thematic analysis of the programme’s online forum content – its anonymity allows people to be more honest so it captures negative experience too.
Being an undergraduate in a big research team could make you feel underqualified, but the PROGROUP team gave me opportunities to do tasks independently, providing feedback and making me feel confident in my research skills and abilities.
I really enjoyed the fact that my research was going towards a real-life problem. Meeting with the Patient and Public Involvement group, reading the online forum posts and attending online Obesity UK webinars, helped me to see that the work was needed and who it would help.
“Understanding how people respond to others who they perceive to be different, the impact of stigma and how to prevent it, really interests me.”
Finding out what matters in research
Understanding how people respond to others who they perceive to be different, the impact of stigma and how to prevent it, really interests me. Stigma is something many people will experience in their lifetime, whether it’s around neurodivergence, weight, women’s health, or something else, I want to help remove it from healthcare systems. These should be places where people feel safe and able to be vulnerable. Fear, or experiences, of stigma can prevent people from seeking healthcare, so there are people out there suffering, not just from the often-internalised shame of stigma, but the knock-on effect of not feeling able to seek treatment.
“I’d say that if there is an opportunity you want to pursue, do so actively.”
Making research work
Seeing researchers later in their career hasn’t put me off pursuing my own! There can be crunch times but being in a team and good planning (I loved discovering GANTT charts) makes it manageable. Planning out your tasks and setting boundaries are important to stop you from becoming consumed by thinking about research. I’d say that if there is an opportunity you want to pursue, do so actively – researchers are generally very busy people because they find it hard to say no to helping others but, in my experience, they will always make time to support you and your ideas. Also, my advice is to keep writing things up as you go! My supervisors pointed out that often things you write for one purpose can help inform another task. So, rather than wasting time, use what you already have.
My ongoing path into research
In the future, I will be applying for a PhD – potentially focussed on stigma. But first, I want to take some time to develop my skills and interests further by working as a research assistant and publishing more papers.
To learn more about PROGROUP and see how you can get involved visit our website.