Dr Jia Stevens

Perioperative Research Fellow
University College London

Jia Stevens

I made the decision to come out of programme and enter the world of research, with very little experience under my belt other than an intercalated BSc during my medical training. At the time I was a less than full time ST5 trainee and a mum of one. The world of scientific research had always interested me, and with this early seed planted in my mind, I eventually began my search, through chatting to various supervisors, fellows on my rotation and attending research meetings. I came to the realisation that I simply had lots of unanswered clinical questions and research would be the best way to attempt to answer them. After expressing my interest and somewhat serendipitously, I was alerted to a fellowship in mitochondrial physiology and oxidative stress. An area that I really did not know much about at the time, but clearly one which excited and interested me. Apprehensive and concerned that I did not really fit the typical mould, armed with my love for science, thirst for knowledge and lots of enthusiasm, I plucked up the courage to meet with my now supervisor.

One year on, I am a perioperative research fellow immersed in the wonderful world of translational science and undertaking a part-time PhD with UCL. With the support of my supervisor and colleagues I have been able to set up a project investigating the effects of major surgery on mitochondrial physiology and oxidative stress. This project offers both clinical and laboratory elements, using human samples to measure direct physiological responses, at the tissue level, to the treatments we deliver as clinicians. The project has allowed me to maintain patient contact, utilise my skills as a clinician and develop laboratory skills as a scientist. Along with this, I have had lots of great opportunities getting involved in research related activities, some of these include; teaching students, attending conferences in my subject area, liaising with world renowned experts in the field, travelling nationally and internationally to present my work.

Financial support for this invaluable experience is of course an important aspect. In my case it is represented in two forms; a grant from the BJA through the NIAA, and work as an intensive care fellow at a private hospital. The grant pays for all research related expenses and the private hospital pays for my salary, where I am also able to get sponsorship for my PhD tuition fees.

Clearly juggling a part-time job, a research project, a pending thesis and a family requires a lot of hard work, which at times can be very challenging, but very much possible. In my experience, it requires lots of planning and organisation, a sympathetic supervisor, a supportive family and some patience, recognising that it may take a little longer than your fellow full-time colleagues to achieve the same outcome. Also as a researcher you are in charge of your own time, which can actually offer more flexibility around commitments outside of work. And as a working parent you will have already gained a lot of transferable skills needed to conduct a research project.

I would definitely advocate and actively encourage less than full time trainees or those who have additional responsibilities to join the world of research. If you have the inclination there is so much that could be gained!