Alzheimer’s Society is committed to being a supportive and inclusive research funder with a passion for nurturing the next generation of research leaders. We aim to help Early Career Researchers (ECRs) to become independent researchers and smooth the bumpy road that can be a career in research. We know that research careers provide very little scope for extenuating circumstances or the challenges that come with balancing work and home life.
This lack of flexibility can often lead to difficult decisions about whether a career in research is still feasible, with many researchers feeling forced to leave. Alzheimer’s Society and the Daphne Jackson Trust (DJT) are working in partnership to support anyone who has had to leave research for family, caring or health reasons after a break of two or more years, in returning to their careers; preventing the loss of diverse, talented researchers from the dementia field.
This year we had the pleasure of awarding our first Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowship to Dr Emily Clarke at University College London, which is part of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UKDRI). Emily is currently re-entering her dementia research career after taking time to care for her son following health complications at birth. Now he is in good health and having spent some quality time together, Emily felt ready to re-enter her research career. However, she came across many of the same challenges other research returners face.
In the spirit of collaboration, Alzheimer’s Society and DJT spoke to Dr Emily Clarke about her experience of re-entering the research field after taking a career break:
What were your thoughts and feelings when you were looking to come back to a research career?
“I knew I couldn’t work full time, I needed an element of flexibility. I had been out of the lab for a while and there was a big gap on my CV. I contacted many roles asking if they would consider a 4-day role, and I didn’t hear anything back – from any of them. The barriers were overwhelming, and it felt insurmountable. I was talking to a neuroscience researcher about how sad it is that I wouldn’t be able to return to my career, and that’s when she mentioned the work of the Daphne Jackson Trust (DJT)”
How did you find the Fellowship application process?
“Life isn’t linear, everyone has a story, and it’s been reassuring speaking with the team at the DJT and at interview stages with Alzheimer’s Society. There was comfort speaking with people who really understood and were sympathetic to the situation. Without feeling like I needed to apologise.
“When you initially see that the total application process can take about a year, on the face of it seems long. However, I knew at the start I was ‘rusty’, and I think this duration would be helpful for those that may be feeling apprehensive. The process helped to get me into a place where I was stronger and more confident – with realistic, attainable deadlines. I found the process being long as a positive, as I needed that to get me into a place where I was definitely ready”
What would you say to anyone looking to return to dementia research after a break?
‘I would say just don’t give up. It might feel like it’s insurmountable, the barriers that you see in front of you, but there’s always ways around it. There are always options. Take it one day at a time.’
‘When you have an application to do, or a proposal to write, it can just seem overwhelming, and you don’t know where to start…and you’re looking at that blank page…You don’t know how to get your thoughts out of your head onto that piece of paper. It can be difficult, but just break it down one day at a time and remember there are options out there.
‘I wish I’d known about the Daphne Jackson Trust before I started my maternity leave. If you think about the number of brains that are lost from research because their lives aren’t linear, it’s a real shame.
‘People need true flexibility and this is an incredible scheme which provides this.’
If you are interested in returning to research, or if you know someone who is, then take a look at the Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowship sponsored by Alzheimer’s Society. You will also find a recording of a recent Q&A livestream on the Dementia Researcher Website.
Lisa Hammond is a Research Communications Officers at Alzheimer’s Society. As part her my role, she shares and communicates the pioneering research that Alzheimer’s Society are funding. Lisa has a background in neuroscience and fine art which allows helps her to xplain science in an out of the box way. Outside work Lisa is a keen gardener, and she enjoys nature and anything creative.
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