I have always been interested in psychology, particularly clinical psychology, mental health and wellbeing. Before this job, I worked for a Scottish mental health charity called Penumbra, which supports people who struggle with their mental health living in the community. As research manager, I oversaw the coordination and running of research and evaluation projects across the charity. I also completed a PhD examining the validity, reliability and usability of a personal recovery outcome measure called I.ROC, developed by Penumbra. I really enjoyed the creativity, flexibility and passion of working in the third sector, but I was looking for a new challenge, which I think I have found working as a Research Assistant (RA) for AVATAR2.
Bridey Rudd is an AVATAR2 research assistant in the Glasgow team.
A day in the life of a new Research Assistant
Every morning I climb the stairs to my study, cup of tea in hand and a little thrill of excitement in my heart. I have been working as an RA on AVATAR2 for almost 2 months now, but still feel so lucky to have landed this job. Turning on my computer, I stretch and look out of the window. It’s winter in Scotland, so the sun is only just making an appearance (of sorts) - hidden somewhere behind a thick bank of soggy clouds. Sitting at my desk wrapped in layers of blankets, I admire the branching patterns of the beech tree outside as I contemplate the day ahead.
My day begins quietly – I’m an early riser (the joys of young children), so I start work early, relishing the peace and the space that this allows before I am plunged into an enjoyable but very full schedule of videocalls. At 9, I smooth down my hair, straighten my top and turn on my camera for the first call of the day – a quick ‘coffee-break’ check-in with my colleagues from the AVATAR2 team in Glasgow. We share jokes and stories from our evenings, discuss the news and what we have planned for the rest of the day. Just like in the office – except for the slippers, the cats, and the miles between us all.
From some angles, each day looks the same. My day always starts like this, and includes many regular rituals and routines; tea making, food breaks and video check-ins with colleagues punctuate the solitude of Covid. As a new member of the team, each day includes a training or learning component. All still wet behind the ears, the other Glasgow and London RA’s and I have explored a broad landscape of topics together – from data management practices to how to engage with participants. We spend a lot of time practicing how to do an assessment, at first stumbling over the unfamiliar language before finding our flow as we familiarise ourselves with the questions we will be asking. In a range of supervision sessions across the week, we reflect on this process, picking over the best ways to ask each question, and problem solving any difficulties we come across. Some of the questions are harder to ask than others; some are phrased in a tricky way, whilst others cover sensitive topics. We remind ourselves that there is no 'perfect' way to ask a difficult question, the challenge is ‘simply’ to help people feel safe and able to give their best and most honest response. Together, we iron out the kinks, enabling us to focus on the process of doing an assessment, whilst staying fully present with the person answering the questions. I’m still nervous about recruiting and running assessments with participants, particularly as this will almost certainly be done virtually to begin with – a novel challenge for everyone in this strange new world we are living in. As the days pass however, I am slowly growing in confidence, and am looking forward now to getting started.
Despite their similarities, every day is actually very different. In fact, one of the greatest things for me about my job is the diversity that it provides. My to do list, like all the RA’s, is long and really varied, comprising a range of independent and collaborative tasks. The AVATAR2 trial is in its early stages – recruitment opens in January – so we are all busy preparing to launch and run the study. The team is working together to plan the launch event, and I am really excited by the innovative ideas that are emerging. Flexing my creative muscles, I have been designing recruitment materials and supporting the design of this website, collating and writing content for each of the pages, a task I have loved for the chances it has provided to get to know my colleagues. There have been plenty of opportunities to let my inner nerd out too, with regular journal clubs and lots of databases to design!
As we move closer to the launch of the trial, I am excited to welcome a new cohort of RA’s to the team. One of the unexpected benefits of home working during Covid for me has been the sense of cohesion and closeness that it has afforded across each of the AVATAR2 site teams. I have worked far more collaboratively with colleagues across the UK than I would have expected if we were all office-based, the result being that whilst it still feels bizarre to have not met a single team mate in the flesh, I can’t wait for our virtual Christmas party! My hope is that I can help all our new colleagues feel as supported and comfortable in the team as I do.