Reflections from one of our Research Training Fellows: Susanne Finnegan

In the next of the series of reflections from our Research Training Fellows, we asked Susanne Finnegan, a Physiotherapist, to reflect on her fellowship as she starts her last year…

I feel confident that I am a much better and more independent researcher than I was two years ago

What has been your experience of your fellowship so far?
Having worked clinically for over 10 years, moving into a research position as a research associate back in 2009 felt like a daunting prospect and now here I am, another 10 years later and I am in the third year of my PhD.

My first thought about my fellowship is that it is flying by so quickly. And my second thought is that I am very lucky to have been given this opportunity to immerse myself in research in an area that I am passionate about, whilst learning so much about research processes and how to be an effective researcher.

The fellowship has given me the chance to develop a whole range of skills. Prior to starting, my expertise definitely lay in quantitative research, but I always had a feeling that qualitative research was something that I would enjoy and fortunately, although it has been a steep learning curve, I have been proven right. I am using phenomenology as the basis for the qualitative aspect of my mixed methods work, and I have been fortunate to travel to Denver, Colorado to attend a Hermeneutic Phenomenology Conference (very philosophical and truly fascinating) and subsequently a trip to Aberdeen for another Hermeneutic Phenomenology Event (more methodological but again fascinating). Both courses have been invaluable in helping me progress with my interview study and meet some wonderful like-minded people, who are only too happy to share their time and knowledge.

Whilst getting to grips with the literature for the quantitative and qualitative aspects of my fellowship, I found myself writing not one, but two systematic reviews: Long-term follow-up of exercise interventions aimed at preventing falls in older people living in the community: a systematic review and meta-analysis which has been published. The second: What enables older people to continue with their falls prevention exercises? A qualitative systematic review is currently under review for the BMJ Open. I am certain that the skills I have developed whilst writing these reviews alone, plus all the extra things I have learnt along the way, will be invaluable to me in the future and will definitely help with my overall thesis.

Why did you choose a career in ageing-related research and how do you see it progressing?
I think that as soon as I qualified as a Physiotherapist in 1999 I knew that my passion lay in working with older people. I enjoy problem solving and working as part of a multi-disciplinary team to help with older people’s rehabilitation after acute illness, whilst promoting independence and quality of life. I find working with older people extremely rewarding and enjoyable and there are always some laughs along the way.

We know that exercise works to prevent falls, but more work is needed to understand how we get older people to start and continue exercising in a way that suits their needs

Exercise and falls prevention for older people has been an area of on-going research for a number of years and I have been fortunate to be part of some innovative, exciting work in this area. As things progress in this field, the implications and importance of adherence to exercise and exercise opportunities for older adults remains a key issue and were part of my motivation for undertaking my PhD in this area. We know that exercise works to prevent falls, but more work is needed to understand how we get older people to start and continue exercising in a way that suits their needs. Engaging older people in lifelong exercise is key to a number of health benefits, including reduction in rate and risk of falls.

How is your research progressing?
With support from The Dunhill Medical Trust, my two fabulous supervisors and a very special team at Warwick Clinical Trials Unit, the last two years have involved reading more research papers than I ever could have imagined to help me in my decisions about and understanding of my topic and also inform the two systematic reviews that I have written.

With help, I have collected follow-up questionnaire data from nearly 3000 older adults who participated in The Prevention of Fall Injury Trial (PreFIT) and have completed 23 interviews with some of those participants.

I have analysed and am in the midst of writing up my qualitative findings and discussion. Once I have cleaned the quantitative data, I will be working on that analysis and interpretation with help from statistician colleagues.

Then comes another new learning opportunity for me when I attempt to integrate my findings to truly make my research mixed methods. Fortunately, I am on schedule with my work, but often need a little push to stop procrastinating and get writing – the hardest part for me!

I am truly grateful to The Dunhill Medical Trust for their support over the past two years, both financially and through the other learning opportunities they provide. I feel confident that I am a much better and more independent researcher than I was two years ago and I look forward to the final year and what lies beyond.

Update: Since this blogpost was first written, my second systematic review has subsequently been published as is available to read here.