BNA Scholars connect with researchers and the third sector at Alzheimer's Research UK's ECR Day

19th Oct 2022

On Tuesday 18th October, Alzheimer's Research UK (ARUK) hosted their ECR Connect Day, to which BNA Scholars were invited as part of ARUK's support for the BNA Scholars Programme. The day, usually only open to ECRs (early career researchers) who are funded by ARUK, welcomed ECRs and the BNA Scholars to ARUK's charity offices in Granta Park, Cambridge, to hear about the work of the charity, receive tailored training and development opportunities, and network with other ECRs.

Five BNA Scholars attended the event—after a informal networking dinner and a good night's sleep the day before, they and around 10 ARUK-funded ECRs embarked on a full day of activities at ARUK's offices. Surrounded by the beautiful landscape of Granta Park's lake and fields, we enjoyed engaging talks from a variety of speakers that revealed the huge range of roles and skills that make up an organisation in this sector:

First, Tim Parry, one of ARUK's directors, introduced ARUK's strategic goals, and the pressing need to boost dementia research funding and improve public understanding of what dementia is and how we are aiming to prevent and treat it.

Then, Dr. Frances Wiseman, an ARUK senior research fellow, gave a blisteringly impressive presentation decribing her research and career journey investivating the relationship between Alzheimer's Disease and Down's Syndrome, including some critical tips for staying true to your personal goals while navigating a changing funding landscape.

Next we heard from James Francis, ARUK's Sporting Events Officer, who gave an overview of the fundraising activities and awareness-raising tactics that are so vital to sustaining ARUK's work, followed by a presentation by ARUK's Head of Policy, David Thomas, on the work that goes into the organisation's ability to influence health and research policy nationally. The final talk was delivered by one of ARUK's own supporters, Katie Thomas, on the story of her own relationship to Alzheimer's Disease and her personal fundraising journey.

After a tour of ARUK's offices and an opportunity to meet and ask questions of their frontline staff (and a quick break for lunch!), we got right back into the action and got stuck into a hands-on workshop learning the skills of communications and public engagement which are so critical to the outreach work that organisations like ARUK depend on to meet their goals. We had a go at storyboarding an animated cartoon to convey complex research in simple ways to the public, and even recorded our own mock fundraising pitches!

The cherry on the cake, however, was a brilliant workshop to end the day that involved being in the role of members of a Grant Review Board, reviewing grant applications and deciding which projects should be awarded funding—this was a really eye-opening experience for all of us, and gave us important insight into what can make or break a funding application in the eyes of reviewers.

Speaking after the event, Maggie, one of the first cohort of BNA Scholars, said: "I honestly enjoyed this day so much! As an ECR you're always thinking 'what am I going to do next?', and this was a good way to understand the range of options that are out there! I'm really excited for us to attend events in the future provided by other BNA Supporters, so we can keep on building our careers in a way that works for us."

Brendan, a second-cohort BNA Scholar, added: "Attending the ARUK ECR Connect Day has been really helpful because I have been able to network with other researchers ranging from PhD to post-doc level to learn more about the importance of persistance when it comes to pursuing a career in research, applying to positions, and chasing what you really want to do."

The ECR Connect Day forms part of ARUK's newly-launched ECR strategy, which aims to increase and sustain the early career workforce and enhance capacity in key areas of need, develop a diverse and skilled workforce in dementia research, and increase collaboration within and across disciplines. Thanks again to ARUK for inviting the BNA Scholars to such a genuinely varied, useful, and warm event. ARUK's ECR programme continues into the rest of the academic year, and we're very excited to take part in the other component events!


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