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By Sarah Payne

I have the privilege to be a Health Education England (HEE) academic fellow this year, taking up my fellowship just as summer was throwing us an extra few weeks of warm weather to take forward into the Autumn. My first weeks were a blur of getting my feet under the table in my new home, the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at Oxford University, meeting new colleagues and setting out my plan for the year ahead. I was then straight off to a week-long intensive course to learn the art of changing people’s behaviours – courtesy of Susan Michie and colleagues at the University College London Centre for Behaviour Change. And what a week it was! Not only was it a great course but it was a great way to kick off my fellowship year, providing lots of inspiration and a ‘to-do list’ as long as my arm to get stuck into when I returned to the office.

Developing a suitable research project and securing research funding for it was one of the aims of my HEE academic fellowship, so I was thrilled when I found out I had been successful in securing an award, from the British Heart Foundation, to fund my proposed research project – investigating ways to help people with high blood pressure reduce their salt intake. Cue a short but wild celebration – short because the funding was contingent on having ethics approval for all elements of the research in place before the award would be given. So, duly inspired from my behaviour change course and brimming with enthusiasm to delve into the literature to understand more about the target behaviour I hoped to change and effective behaviour-change techniques to do so, and to spend some quality time developing a behaviourally informed intervention… I was faced with ETHICS FORMS! Hmmm….not so inspiring, though of course a critical part of the process.

Thankfully, the HEE fellowship provides a perfect bridge to support the development phase of my work, allowing me to prepare detailed research protocols and all the associated documents that support an ethics application for my proposed research and to begin some of the training in research skills needed to carry out the research. As well as fulfilling the immediate requirement to secure my longer term PhD funding, the process of preparing ethics applications has forced me to consider the finer details of my research and really think through how I will deliver it. I’ve had great support from my supervisors and my department – including the opportunity to gather valuable statistics feedback from the regular department Stats Coven!

So, a slightly different focus for my first six months than I had planned, but it has so far been a fulfilling and interesting time, as well as suitably productive. I’ve attended a couple of other short courses, both of which have helped to keep my ‘inspiration and enthusiasm’ barometer high. I’ve attended various department seminars and workshops and had an opportunity to meet and network with other PhD students. Naturally, I’ve also learnt the ins and outs of the various ethics processes and undertaken some training in research integrity and good clinical practice!

So onward and upwards. I have submitted my ethics applications and I’m in the midst of the lengthy process of amendments and waiting… and waiting… Perhaps I will use some of this time to explore that behaviour change literature-base I’ve been waiting to get to. Maybe there are even the beginnings of a systematic review in sight…

Sarah Payne is a Health Education England Academic Fellow

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