On Friday 4 October, a lovely sunny day in Bristol, DECIPHer held its annual Research Symposium at the Bristol Hotel, in a room with a brilliant view of the harbourside. Before I share my experiences of the day with you, let me explain a little about the way DECIPHer is structured. Our research centre is spread across Cardiff, Bristol and Swansea Universities. This aids collaborative research across Wales and England, and provides the breadth of expertise, perspectives and resources required to develop and evaluate interventions to address complex public health issues. The work of DECIPHer researchers at the three universities complements each other; all have a wealth of interest, experience and expertise in certain common areas (such as schools-based research), but each site also has its own strong policy links to relevant organisations, and unique areas of expertise.
Although many collaborative DECIPHer research projects are conducted across the three universities, their geographical spread means it is sometimes difficult for DECIPHer staff and students at one university to engage with projects and researchers based at another. I have been working as a research assistant at DECIPHer in Cardiff for nearly a year. During this time, I have got to know everybody in the Cardiff office and their respective research projects quite well. Some of the more in-depth information has been acquired through direct involvement in projects, but much has been through conversations in the corridor and kitchen, and during our weekly coffee mornings. These informal exchanges are harder to orchestrate with staff and students based in Swansea and Bristol, and I still find it difficult putting some faces to names.
The DECIPHer Research Symposium is held once a year to encourage networking across the three universities and to inform DECIPHer staff and students about the research taking place in each location. This year’s symposium had a celebratory air, as we looked back at some of the achievements of DECIPHer’s first five years (now almost over) and forward to the next five. Listening to Professor Laurence Moore’s presentation, a celebration of DECIPHer’s success so far, it was great to be reminded of everything that has been achieved, and it made me feel proud to be part of such a successful research centre.
Throughout the day, short but informative research updates from DECIPHer staff and PhD students brought us all up to date with the projects being undertaken at the three universities, and gave a good overview of the huge range of projects. I also learnt about research in the other two universities, such as Sarah Harding’s work on the environmental associations with physical activity in children and adolescence, which were relevant to my own research interests and gave me new insight.
The symposium also included a workshop on knowledge exchange and translation, presented by Catt Turney and Dr. Jeremy Segrott. This highlighted the importance of engaging in knowledge exchange and translation in order to promote better science, improved development of young researchers, better links with policy and practice, and more meaningful outcomes from our research. Communicating with other researchers, policy-makers, practitioners and members of the public, and collaborating to maximise the impact of our research, is particularly important in DECIPHer, given the geographical separation of the three sites and the collaborative nature of the research that we do.
For me, the best parts of the day were the opportunities to learn more about the research that is happening in each of the three universities, and to be able to put faces to names. It is brilliant to have an event which is purely aimed at internal DECIPHer folk connecting and sharing their experiences. Meeting interesting and like-minded people, and finding out about their research interests and skills, is particularly helpful for early career researchers like myself in knowing who to turn to for advice. This is one of the most difficult things about being a young researcher, and events like this, which promote communication, networking and knowledge exchange, can really make a difference to both academic and personal development.