The 7th Edinburgh Stroke Winter School was a 3-day course enabling 23 participants, at the beginning of their scientific career in stroke, to turn an idea into an actual research plan, with the guidance of experienced researchers in the field of stroke. We, Anna, Brian and Simone, would like to highlight some of our favourite aspects related to our individual research projects, the course lectures and the informal activities, in this blog. But first, let us introduce ourselves: Anna is a 27 year-old neuroenthusiast working as a clinical fellow in stroke medicine at Southend University Hospital and fellow at Department of Neuroscience and Vascular Simulation at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford. Brian is a 33 year-old geriatric medicine trainee in London undertaking a Stroke Fellowship at Imperial College Healthcare Trust in London. Simone is a 26 year-old medical doctor who is currently a PhD candidate at the University Medical Center Utrecht. She coordinates the Dutch MR ASAP trial and is mainly interested in blood pressure management in relation to ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke.
Developing your own research idea
Prior to the course, were asked to think about a research question, which was used throughout the course to develop our own research plan. In small groups, led by two staff members, we discussed our ideas and gave each other feedback, as well as challenging each other to think about relevance and feasibility of the project. We were encouraged to pitch our research proposal in various settings, to different people. Most of the Winter School staff had different backgrounds in terms of study designs and focus of research, which worked out great, because everyone’s input was therefore new and valuable. The small groups ensured a lot of personal feedback and an interactive atmosphere.
Pitching your idea
On the final day we got the opportunity to present our research project ideas to the other participants and lecturers. This worked as a perfect culmination of the workshop leading up to this. Especially seeing how people you’d worked with in the small sessions had developed their ideas. The collaborative nature of those sessions led to noticeable changes for the better in such a simple manner, two days of talking out loud helped me get a much clearer picture of what I wanted to achieve in a way that would not be possible in isolation. It was great to see the passion people had for their projects and the energy they brought to them. It really was quite inspiring.
Grant Committee Board review
Not only did we deliver a 3 slides presentation on our final day, but also we attended a mock Grant Committee Board session based on our research outlines proposals. It gave us the unique opportunity to observe how our project is understood and presented by another person, as well as to realize what is information important for funders – feasibility and clinical significance of the study are again given the highest ranks.
A significant part of the meeting was dedicated to the communication of scientific ideas to the wider audience: how to give an impactful presentation and basics of data visualisation (pro-tip: forget about pie-charts). We also had an exclusive look into the editorial office and understand what makes a manuscript successful – it is just clarity and clinical significance. Speed research dating session was an interesting experience and a good practice for the future ‘elevator pitches’.
Rustam Al-Shahi Salman – ‘Should your study be an observational study or a clinical trial?’
The lectures were all of such a high quality but I really appreciated this opening one. As someone who has done mainly clinical work with very little research, it can feel daunting looking at the research profiles of colleagues. The focus on the early steps and the time taken to develop projects into the finished product we see really helped put things in perspective for me. There was great humour in the delivery and I felt the lecture set a narrative for the rest of the workshop.
Joanna Wardlaw – “Where next for stroke research?”
It’s almost impossible to pick one favourite lecture, with such a varied range of topics. I thoroughly enjoyed the lecture by Prof. Wardlaw, who gave an overview of major breakthroughs in stroke care in the recent past, which turned stroke from one of the least treatable brain disease to one of the most treatable ones. She also pointed out which therapies and interventions did not result in clinical breakthroughs, such as neuroprotection and the translation of drugs from animal models to humans, and why these did not work. Furthermore, she addressed challenges and opportunities for the next few years, mentioning the potential for the use of artificial intelligence and stem cell therapy in stroke patients. She made it clear that chronic and acute cerebrovascular disease should perhaps not be viewed as separate entities, because they are inevitably linked and we should focus on understanding signs and symptoms of vascular dysfunction. Finally, we should keep an open mind for novel ideas that might change the future of stroke care, even though we may not imagine it right now.
Learning about the journey
Through the lectures, we got to know a few personal research journeys. It was reassuring to see how much time, in the beginning, is focused on observational studies (and that getting bald afterwards is beautiful). The praised successes, featured in the big journals and heatedly discussed during conferences, are just a few lines of the story. Imperfections, mistakes, missed opportunities are a huge part of it and now we are equipped with better tools to avoid them (never forget about electronic backup). Additionally, we discussed what academic success really means and importance of research citizenship, and got to know about Kardashian index!
Informal Aspects of the Winter Course
Edinburgh – a perfect setting for an inspirational course
Edinburgh is a fantastic city. It has green parks and hills, which provide great viewpoints on clear days, interesting museums, nice restaurants, shops and pubs, and a lively and warm atmosphere despite the sometimes chilly weather. I was lucky to spend the weekend prior to the course exploring this lovely city. The course itself and our accommodation were set on Edinburgh First campus. From inside St. Leonard’s Hall, where the lectures and discussion sessions took place, we looked out on Arthur’s Seat. It was a beautiful room with lots of light, where the course participants sat at a long table to encourage active participation and discussions.
Throughout the course there is a huge effort made to create engagement between the participants and lecturers. I particularly enjoyed the coffee breaks, lunch breaks, and the delicious breakfasts. These opportunities facilitated the sharing of ideas, stories as well as the opportunity to learn about where others live and work. Creating a positive culture is so important at these events and this was perfectly facilitated in these moments, aided by our engaging and passionate hosts Dr. Else Sandset and Dr. Fergus Doubal.
Finally, the Fun
But life does not end at work. This course gave us the opportunity to meet other people with similar interests from all over Europe and a few from beyond. We had the opportunity to share different interests and great amounts of laughter over Scottish cooking, Pizza and a few drinks. A practice that will hopefully continue over conferences to come.