Mandy Cheetham

During the recent webinar on an embedded researcher network, I listened to the speakers’ experiences of embedded research with a mixture of anticipation and curiosity. Aware of the NIHR funded study that Vicky Ward is involved in, I was eager to hear details of what had emerged in the scoping review.

It was interesting to hear the criteria used to define embedded research: trained researchers, creating knowledge in a health setting for the benefit of the host and spending part of the working week in a health service.

There are lots of different models of embedded research in practice and, in my experience, it’s helpful to be clear. I liked the reference to spending at least part of the working week in the host organisation.

Being based three days a week in a local authority public health team has really helped my understanding of the context. Even then, I am increasingly aware that my work as an embedded researcher over the last three years offers only a partial view of the complexity of one local authority in north east England.

That’s why developing a network of embedded researchers in different settings and locations is so valuable. I really enjoyed hearing about the insights of other embedded researchers, a glimpse into the similarities and differences with my own experiences.

We don’t talk enough about the emotional labour invested in research, the impact of researching sensitive topics or hearing distressing accounts from participants.

I was struck by Felix’s suggestion of sharing findings “painfully early”. In the spirit of co-production, collaborators can (should?) contribute to the process of defining the research questions, and have the opportunity to sense check early findings, refine and enhance analysis, which increases the likelihood of the recommendations being relevant and useful. The mismatch in timing is always a challenge though.

I share David’s view that it can be exhausting fitting into two ‘worlds’. I don’t think we talk enough about the emotional labour invested in research, the impact of researching sensitive topics or hearing distressing accounts from participants.

It’s been helpful for me to think about the effects of organisational culture in different settings, including academia, on our own and others’ work. There are important differences in principles, priorities, pressures and politics, which can make embedded research feel lonely.

In the last three years, I have sometimes felt a sense of disconnect with the university, and a sense of not belonging neatly into either ‘world’. It was heartening then to hear others calling for a ‘home’ for embedded researchers, a safe place to share experiences, theories, challenges and opportunities to disrupt (thanks again, David) and identify solutions together.

It’s important to identify sources of support, including one another, in our embedded endeavours. I’m looking forward to developing these both online and face to face over the coming months. Thanks to everyone involved in pulling the network together.

Mandy Cheetham  is a postdoctoral Research Associate with Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health. She is employed by Teesside University and works as an embedded researcher in Gateshead Council.​

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