In the next of the series of reflections from our Research Training Fellows, we hear from Jignasa Mehta, an orthoptist, entering the last year of her fellowship…
- What has been your experience of your fellowship so far?
As I write this blog, I realise that on this day 2 years ago I started my fellowship with the Dunhill Medical Trust. I was over the moon when awarded this prestigious award and every step since, I have been overwhelmed by the Trust’s support and enthusiasm in developing their fellows. The first few months of the fellowship felt like the ‘honeymoon period’, as I was so delighted to have been given the opportunity to do research full time without having to balance it between teaching and admin, as my job before the fellowship was as a lecturer in the Department of Orthoptics at the University of Liverpool. However, it then started to dawn on me that my previous experience as a lecturer and quantitative researcher was not enough to see me though the PhD journey. I felt pushed out of my comfort zone on a number of occasions, as I not only had the logistical challenge of recruiting significant numbers of fallers and age-matched controls, but also had to navigate the field of social science research. It has been a steep learning curve while I got to grips with qualitative research methods, social theories and establishing my ‘ontology’ and ‘epistemology’; two new words I thought I’d never hear myself use. Nevertheless, it was reassuring to hear from other DMT fellows and peers that it was normal to feel like being on a rollercoaster ride! However, I am now at the top of the rollercoaster where I have a great sense of achievement in that I have learnt a new set of research skills and I am looking forward to assimilating it into my thesis.
The fellowship has opened many doors. For example, my research on vision and falls has led to my appointment as the Public Health lead for the British and Irish Orthoptic Society. Consequently, I have had the opportunity to work on Public Health England initiatives and am continuing to contribute to the prevention and healthy ageing agenda. In collaboration with professional colleagues, I have set up a special interest group on falls, which I lead on for our professional body and hosted a successful study day for orthoptists and other health professionals in Liverpool. It was an honour to be invited to disseminate my research at the British Isles Paediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus conference (2017, Hull) and recently run a ‘Vision and falls’ workshop at a conference hosted by the British Gerontology Society (2018, Leeds).
- Why did you choose a career in ageing-related research and how do you see it progressing?
When I was 18 years old, I wanted to work with young children and hence chose to be an orthoptist, as it involves diagnosing and treating vision and eye misalignment problems in children, as well as adults. Ironically, I ended up working with elderly patients at the Royal Liverpool Hospital when I became a lecturer at the University of Liverpool. This is where I became interested in improving quality of life in older people and where I see much of the research that needs to progress. Some older people accept preventable sight loss as part of their age and subsequently put themselves at risk of falls. In addition, there is a lack of focus on the importance of vision in some falls pathways, which motivated me to apply for the fellowship to highlight the need for a standardised approach to vision assessment in falls patients. We also need to understand what is important for elderly people living with sight loss to maintain their quality of life and not be fearful of falling. With the ageing population set to increase, there is a growing need for not only clinical research, but also social science research to understand how we can promote healthy ageing and independence in our seniors.
- How is your research progressing?
My supervisors have been impressed with my ability to recruit and clinically assess 166 participants and have the data analysed in the time so far. Analysis of my large data set has been the exciting part where I can see interesting data associations that support my propositions and discover additional observations that I did not anticipate. I have also completed a third of my interviews, which was nerve wracking as I had never done qualitative interviews before, but I really enjoy speaking with my participants and have discovered that my chatting skills are coming in good use! Over the past 2 years, this fellowship has enabled me to strengthen my research capacity and acquire a diverse set of skills for future research in ageing. I have been very fortunate with the access to resources and people at the University of Liverpool and the Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen Hospital that has enabled me to reach this point. Of course, this all would not have been possible without the generous support and opportunity offered by the Dunhill Medical Trust for which I am very grateful. I hope that in return it will result in an evidence-based policy on vision and falls and an improvement in quality of life in people with age-related visual impairments.