Introduction to our career support

Supporting research careers

We're committed to building a world-class workforce to continue the fight against arthritis through supporting research careers and ensuring there's sufficient capacity within the UK to translate ideas into benefit for people with arthritis.

Our success depends on the quality of the scientists and clinicians involved. We aim to support the future leaders of musculoskeletal research by encouraging the brightest and most committed researchers, from all relevant disciplines based in the UK and beyond, to become involved in research in this field.

How do we support musculoskeletal research careers?

We support musculoskeletal research careers through:

  • dedicated fellowship support for outstanding researchers at different stages of their career
  • funding of researchers through our other funding schemes such as the early career researcher pain awards.

We aim to develop the next-generation of world-class musculoskeletal researchers by providing incentives and motivation during early training and education to make musculoskeletal disease an attractive career choice.

We offer opportunities for early research experience through to advanced research training, with the aim of building a workforce of world-class independent researchers that are supported by universities and other research active institutes.

We provide research training opportunities for individuals with an interest in musculoskeletal diseases. These may be:

  • academic clinicians, accepting qualified individuals across all disciplines, including but not limited to rheumatology, orthopaedics and primary care
  • allied health professionals, such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, rheumatology specialist nurses, podiatrists and psychologists
  • non-clinical research scientists.

Our strategy is to support training and career development either alone or in partnership with others.

Working in partnership allows us to maximise the impact of our research funding and provide more opportunities to the future leaders in musculoskeletal research. Current partnerships in career support include:

  • Academy of Medical Sciences Starter Grant for Clinical Lecturers Scheme
  • Medical Research Council/Versus Arthritis Clinician Scientist Fellowship
  • NIHR mentorship programme
  • Fight for Sight/Versus Arthritis PhD Studentship

Our fellowships are reviewed by our Fellowship Expert Group.

Case studies: 2019 Nurse and allied health professional interns – Alice Johnston

My name is Alice Johnston and I have recently completed my Physiotherapy degree at Bournemouth University. Throughout my studies I found myself drawn to research, but I felt unsure about how to take the first step towards a career in this field. Therefore when I saw the Versus Arthritis internship advertised, I knew I needed to apply and was thrilled to have been accepted.

I have a particular interest in patient education and our role as clinicians to empower patients to optimise their health and wellbeing. For my internship, I was based at UWE and Bristol Royal Infirmary contributing to a study on the educational needs of patients with inflammatory arthritis and whether these needs are being met. Working on this project provided a great opportunity to combine my interest in delivering patient education on a practical level with my passion in research and evidence based practice.

I was excited to gain a deeper knowledge of the research process and have an opportunity to apply this practically to my project. I hoped the skills I developed during the program would set me up for a future career in research. I also hoped to gain the beginnings of a professional network and I had already enjoyed meeting the other interns and researchers at study days at Southampton and Oxford. I learnt so much already in only week one! I was really looking forward to seeing what we have all achieved at the end of the eight week program.

The project involved conducting a secondary analysis on an existing data set to answer a different research question. My time was split between working at the Glenside campus at UWE, and at the Bristol Royal Infirmary within the Rheumatology department.

The most valuable thing I took from the internship was the incredible people I had the chance to meet. Whether this be inspirational researchers, patient research partners or my fellow interns – there was something to learn from everyone. I particularly enjoyed working with patient research partners and hearing about their experiences of living with their condition. The importance of patient involvement in research is definitely something I will endeavour to champion in future projects.

One of my main things that surprised me about the internship, is the amount myself and all the other interns were able to achieve in what seemed like such a short amount of time. I had no experience in data analysis or statistics prior to the internship but with excellent guidance from my supervisor, I was able to present the findings of my analysis on dissemination day.

I feel very lucky to have gained these skills and developed research networks at such an early stage in my career and I am very grateful to Versus Arthritis for the invaluable opportunity they provide in this internship scheme.

Case studies: 2019 Nurse and allied health professional interns – Anika Hoque

My name is Anika Hoque, and I am one of the Versus Arthritis AHP interns for summer 2019. Having originally grown up in Denmark, I moved to Glasgow and have completed my BSc degree in Podiatry at Glasgow Caledonian University, where I was also based for the duration of my internship. During my undergraduate degree, I developed a fascination towards the field of research with a specific interest in rheumatology and musculoskeletal conditions, which is what motivated me to apply for this internship programme. My project involved investigating the potential of a newly developed foot health questionnaire, the RADAI-F5, to measure the severity of foot disease experienced by patients with rheumatoid arthritis. I hoped that my contribution to this project would help deliver significant and meaningful results.

My initial expectations for this internship were to gain further knowledge into research methods and appreciate how research can be applied in clinical practice and help improve a patients quality of life. Furthermore, I firmly believed that this internship scheme would provide me with the opportunity to network with many inspiring and leading clinical researchers across multiple professions and numerous university sites. I expected that this opportunity would be challenging and occasionally push me outside my comfort zone, especially in relation to public speaking; however, I hoped that this scheme would help me develop self-confidence.

Overall, the training days at the university sites included in this internship scheme provided a fantastic introduction to different aspects of research. It also allowed me to build long-lasting networks with many of the researchers and my fellow interns.

Furthermore, by conducting my project, I gained an abundance of knowledge about statistics and the research process at a graduate level. Although the project was challenging at times, I always felt supported by my team members, the fellow interns and Versus Arthritis. After my eight weeks at this internship, I have also completed an entire paper for publication, but most importantly, I have built my confidence not only with my research skills but also in regards to public speaking, and I would like to thank Versus Arthritis and GCU for this. Moreover, it was incredible to witness how much the other interns had accomplished during dissemination day. On the whole, this internship has opened up an entirely new and exciting career path, and I am now more motivated and determined to establish a career in research.

Case studies: 2019 Nurse and allied health professional interns – Jennifer Andrews

Hello, I’m Jennifer Andrews, a new podiatry graduate from the University of Salford, and I’ve just completed an 8-week internship with Versus Arthritis. During the course of my studies I had been touched by my encounters with people who live with a rheumatological condition, especially those who are affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis. Whilst reading about the experiences of these patients it had become clear to me that often patients’ foot health is not addressed effectively during the early stages of the disease, either due to the feet being ‘hidden’ inside of shoes or foot pain being underreported/investigated due to embarrassment or the occurrence of more pressing issues elsewhere in the body.

I am passionate about ensuring high-quality foot care is provided to those who can most benefit from its' delivery. Timely and appropriate interventions can help prevent deformity, reduce pain levels and maintain mobility and independence. For this reason, I chose to work on a qualitative study being undertaken within the University of Salford that aims to investigate the experiences of individuals with Rheumatoid Arthritis, specifically the foot care provided to them.

Over the course of the internship I hoped to meet people and have experiences that broaden my understanding of the world of research and clarify how I may contribute to this over the course of my career.

The purpose of my research project was to explore the experiences of people living with Rheumatoid Arthritis and how this affects their social participation. Over the past two months I have learned a huge amount about how people live with a chronic disease, and how meaningful and impactful research can improve patient outcomes.

During the internship I have travelled to six different research institutions and met a huge number of esteemed researchers and clinicians, as well as my fellow interns. Through these experiences and these new connections, I have developed a wider understanding of the world of research, the career pathways for clinical academics and how I may be able to contribute to research in future.

I have had the most fantastic, enlightening and encouraging experience over the past eight weeks and I would like to thank the wonderful team at Versus Arthritis UK for their hard work and support over the past two months, as well as my supervisory team at the University of Salford for having hosted me. The experience I have had during this internship have affirmed my passion for research and I am happy to say that from September I will be working towards gaining my PhD within the University of Salford.

Case studies: 2019 Nurse and allied health professional interns – Jennifer Dowdell

Hello, my name is Jennifer Dowdell and I am one of the Versus Arthritis AHP interns for the summer 2019. I am originally from Cumbria and spent ten years working in the army before pursuing a career in healthcare. I have since completed my podiatry degree at Huddersfield University.

University placements grew my interest in rheumatoid and musculoskeletal health conditions. I also became interested in research throughout university as I was interested in the complexities of developing a health care research project that combined research with clinical expertise to generate clinically relevant research questions for the benefit of patient care. With this I was also interested in the governance and administrative frameworks that would underpin good quality research. Therefore, it was impossible to pass up the opportunity to complete an internship to complete a research project at the prestigious Leeds centre of excellence of rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease research NIHR with the world leading researchers from the FASTER (Foot and Ankle Studies in Rheumatology) team.

During my internship, I supported the development of a clinical atlas and data bank of images to support the Foot OA MRI Score (FOAMRIS). This aimed to provide a scoring system for OA that looks at both traditional OA features and features informing the broader construct of foot pain and will provide a visual tool to assist clinicians in the scoring of OA in patients, therefore assisting early diagnosis in patients who fail to have classic symptoms.

On reflection of my eight-week internship as a Versus Arthritis AHP and nurses intern, It was exciting and varied and have clearly surpassed what I had hoped for.

On my project, I was fortunate enough to be working with MRI imaging, this is something I would not have had the chance to do if it wasn’t for this internship. Prior to this project I had not had the opportunity to explore MRI imagery. By developing the clinical atlas to support the Foot OA MRI Score (FOAMRIS), I am now more confident interpreting MRI images of the foot and thus this has assisted with my professional development as a podiatrist, as not only did I learn to look at imaging through a different view, this internship has clearly improved my anatomy knowledge, which I will use on a regular basis for clinics. Overall, working with these images has improved my clinical academic development very early on in my career. Now when I am in a clinic, I can look at an MRI report and view the images and explore and understand some of the detailed anatomy and features and how they work in different planes and interpret them to a degree thus providing me with a broader range of tools and skills to help diagnose or refer a patient.

Both the project and the training days, assisted in developing a range of different skills that could be useful in future research, such as; data entry and validation, time management, PPI and dissemination, as well as widening my knowledge of the research opportunities available through shadowing a wide range of academics at different parts in their clinical academic careers. Although my internship is now complete, I am continuing to work on my project with the aim of publishing the Atlas within the next year.

Being mentored by researches that are key leaders in their field has provided me a plethora of knowledge and experience. Additionally, the internship has broadened my network and provided me with a supportive peer group and enlightened me on the opportunities available and further enhanced my desire, determination and motivation to continue into research and become a clinical academic.

Case study: Elizabeth Rosser, foundation fellow

We interviewed Elizabeth Rosser, PhD student (2010–14), Foundation Fellow (2016–19), UCL.

Please could you start by telling us a bit about your background and research interests?

After completing a BSc in Immunology at UCL, I was awarded a PhD studentship from Arthritis Research UK (now Versus Arthritis) to work with Professor Claudia Mauri (Centre for Rheumatology Research, UCL). During my PhD and now in my foundation fellowship (with Professor Lucy Wedderburn, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health), I have been interested in trying to understand how the gut-microbiota alters the development and function of B cells in experimental models of arthritis and, more recently, in human paediatric disease.

What inspired you to apply for one of our fellowships?

My PhD supervisor recommended that I apply. I was very keen to carry on my work into how the microbiota influences B cell function but translate the work from experimental models into human disease, and writing a fellowship seemed the best way to do this. I had also been inspired by watching previous fellows present their work at the annual fellow’s meetings, which I attended throughout my PhD.

What are your research highlights to date?

Getting my fellowship! After writing my own research project, and preparing for months for the interview, it is such a pleasure to see all that hard work pay off.

What has been the most challenging part of your fellowship?

My hypothesis being wrong! Though, of course, this is part of the scientific process it is always a bit disheartening to begin with. However, I think the new research that evolved afterwards is even more exciting! I have also had problems recruiting some patients to the microbiome study, unfortunately lots of children think sending poo in the post is a bit gross! I think the key to helping with this is better patient engagement, which we hope to address in the future with a Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis Family Day. 

What are your plans for the future?

I have just been awarded the job of Senior Research Associate at the centre for adolescent rheumatology at UCL, UCLH, and GOSH. I am delighted that I will be able to continue my research journey with Versus Arthritis and I am extremely excited about the opportunity to work with a new clinical team. Looking further forward, I aim to apply for another fellowship in the next 3/4 years.

What doors has our fellowship funding opened?

As part of the fellowship funding I have been able to join the “Inflammatory Arthriits Microbiome Consortium”, a UK-wide consortium led by Fiona Powrie at the Kennedy Institute Oxford, which has been a fantastic opportunity to collaborate with scientists and clinicians in both the UK and USA. It has also been a real pleasure to be part of the team in my sponsor’s (Professor Lucy Wedderburn) lab. Lucy leads an amazing translational team and I have learnt so much about the importance of patient, parent, clinician and researchers participation in delivering clinically relevant research.

Do you have any advice that you would give to other researchers at this career stage?

My advice would be to talk to your peers and attend meetings. Networking really does help you understand what opportunities are out there. It is also important to be flexible with your research and to ‘go where the science takes you', some of the best parts of my research career have been the outcome of unexpected results!

Case studies: 2019 Nurse and allied health professional interns – Jessica Fletcher

Hello, my name is Jess Fletcher and I am one of the 2019 interns. I am very grateful for the opportunity to complete the Versus Arthritis Internship Programme over the summer.

I am a recent physiotherapy graduate from the University of East Anglia and have a previous degree in Sports and Exercise Science. Throughout both my degrees I had an interest in research and was an active participant in ongoing research. Whilst studying physiotherapy I had an opportunity to complete a 6 week research placement with the ABIRA group based at my university, and this got me excited about the possibility of a future career in research. Whilst on this placement I saw the Versus Arthritis Internship advertised and thought that is was an amazing opportunity to gain experience in some of the front running musculoskeletal research in the UK.

I completed my internship at the University of Oxford alongside NDORMS, which was an exciting opportunity to learn about the pathways to becoming a clinical researcher, progress my academic skills, and to begin to create a professional research network.

During my eight week internship, I feel that I have taken every opportunity to enhance my research skills and discuss the research pathway with multiple staff members. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about research and conducting my own study, as well as partaking in several others. My expectations of the internship have surpassed those I thought at the beginning and I would highly recommend it to any student who is contemplating a role in research in the future. I hope to utilise the skill and knowledge that I have gained during the Versus Arthritis internship, by completing a research role in the near future. Thank you Versus Arthritis for a fantastic experience.

Case studies: 2019 Nurse and allied health professional interns – Joanna Simkins

I completed my BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy degree in 2016 graduating from St George’s, University of London. Through the university I successfully applied to go to China for three months and volunteer at a school for children with cerebral palsy. I then started working as a rotational physiotherapist at a major trauma hospital, before obtaining a post at Southern Health Foundation Trust working in musculoskeletal outpatients. This developed my interest in musculoskeletal research, as it enables high quality, patient centred care. As my career progresses, I want to be involved in research as a way of contributing to evidence based practice. Therefore, I was delighted to be accepted onto the Versus Arthritis Internship, as it would give me experience of working in a centre of excellence for rheumatic and musculoskeletal research.

For my internship I was based at Keele University, one of the UK’s leading centres of applied research in primary care and musculoskeletal disorders. I worked on two systematic reviews for a project, funded by Versus Arthritis. The first looked at supported self-management for individuals with musculoskeletal pain, taking into account varying levels of health literacy. Previous research has highlighted that patients with musculoskeletal pain and low health literacy have more pain related disability. Through qualitative and quantitative research methods the project aimed to develop a plan for new ways to provide support to this group. I thought the internship was an excellent opportunity to immerse myself in a multi-disciplinary research environment and build upon my research skills and confidence.

The second was on self-management of long-term conditions. I was involved in title and abstract screening, full text screening and data extraction. I enjoyed reviewing current research as it enabled me to evaluate evidence-based effective practice. Overall, I had a positive experience during my internship at Keele as I got to work with leading professionals in primary care and musculoskeletal research and I got to hone my research skills.

Whilst on the internship I also attended study days at the different participating universities. I learnt about a variety of topics such as writing for publication, statistics and patient and public involvement and engagement in research. This was helpful in improving my knowledge and understanding of the research process. I was well supported at Keele as I was encouraged to meet with twelve different clinical academic physiotherapists. This has inspired me to pursue a clinical academic career pathway.

The internship facilitated a successful application to a research physiotherapy post, split between clinical practice in MSK Outpatients and musculoskeletal research. I am excited to continue to build upon my clinical and research skills. This new role would not have been possible without the support and encouragement I received on my internship. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in such an innovative scheme.

Case studies: 2019 Nurse and allied health professional interns – Sally Gates

My name is Sally and I am honoured to be one of the 2019 Versus Arthritis Interns. I first became aware of Versus Arthritis back in the days of Arthritis Research, when I was looking for information to help me manage my fibromyalgia and stumbled across ARC research linking the condition to sleep abnormalities. It was several years before I entered remission, but when I did it was this research that helped me to keep my symptoms firmly under control. I’ve been in full remission for several years now, and I couldn’t have managed as well as I have without the work of Versus Arthritis. I am delighted to be able to give something back.

My project looked at the lifestyle factors enabling and preventing retired former athletes staying active later in life, with a particular focus on footwear. As a newly qualified podiatrist with a love of walking, running and anything that gets me into the great outdoors, I felt like this project was made for me. My passion is getting people active and keeping them active, and I was very excited to be able to contribute to this valuable study that will help more people to continue to do the things that matter to them.

Even at the start of my internship journey I was amazed at how much I had learned and I couldn’t wait to see where else the experience would take me. I loved meeting my fellow interns and looked forward to getting to know better this fantastic group of young women.

At the start of the summer I was nervous and uncertain and starting to wonder if I’d bitten off more than I could chew with my internship. Now I’m nearly a month out the other side and wishing I could go back and do it all again.

My research evolved so much that I’d need more than the space I’ve been allocated to talk you through it, but it ended up with me creating an interview script to help us to understand the reasons why activity levels fluctuate throughout a person’s life, and what impact this has later in life. The process was more of a rollercoaster than I imagined and involved a lot of talking, thinking, crying and pushing my own activity levels in order to clear my mind and help me to process my findings.

The highlight for me was all of the people I met along the way. From the amazing team at the University of Southampton who hosted me, to the volunteers who shared their stories in mock interviews to help me hone my script, to the team of extraordinary young women who interned alongside me, everyone I met made my experience just a little bit better. I hope that I cross paths with all of them again soon – especially the Southampton team, as I am keen to continue this project as the start of a research career.

I would like to say a huge thank you to Versus Arthritis for giving me this amazing opportunity. I hope I can return the favour in the future!