Dr Grace Carolan-Rees

Dr Grace Carolan-Rees, director at CEDAR

I work as the director of CEDAR, an NHS evaluation centre that conducts research into emerging health technologies and devices to support decision-making in healthcare.

I’ve worked in clinical science for most of my career and did my PhD part-time whilst working as a medical physicist. I wanted to work in the NHS because of the opportunity to make a difference to patients directly and to use physics to have a direct impact on their lives.

This job represents a shift back into a more research-focused role from a more clinical background. The evolution of CEDAR as an organisation and the development of my own role have run in parallel, and having a PhD helped me to make this change of direction.

I was approached to take the leadership at CEDAR when the previous director left. The organisation was in a critical phase of its growth, as we had to reapply for our core funding and decide what direction we would take. I was in a position to work quickly to lead this transition and move us towards a completely new working environment. My PhD played its part in this because research skills were so critical to our success. However, equally important was the variety of posts I’d taken whilst working as a clinical scientist. Rather than choosing and staying in one specialist area of medical physics, I had moved around and taken on posts in many areas. This gave me an unusually broad perspective, which has proved invaluable in a role in which I’m required to tackle any topic or device in our work. This role really needs a generalist.

The value of my PhD hasn’t been so much in the topic I researched, as the understanding of the research process. Learning how to design experiments from an independent standpoint has been useful, although this was a consolidation of my work as a clinical scientist. The real value of my PhD has been in learning how to formulate research questions – we have to do this really effectively in order to provide the answers that clinicians and health boards need, often under time pressure and with limited resources.

I did my PhD part-time whilst working full-time (with three children!) so I have also learnt how to juggle competing demands on my time. Doing a PhD alongside a job is really tough, particularly if you are working in a cutting-edge field where things can move quickly because the pace of a part-time PhD is much slower. I was able to choose a topic that complemented my clinical work so it was easier to fit the PhD and my job together.

The work we do here involves all kinds of scientists and technologists and we work in multidisciplinary teams. With such diverse backgrounds it’s essential to be able to value each other’s specialisms and we work hard to understand each other. The transferable skills are key in this role as is so many. As a researcher you really need to be able to emphasise how well you can work with others, communicate and perform effectively in a professional environment.

last edited: October 01, 2012