Dr Carolyn Johnson, Research Manager for Alopecia UK, joined us in 2019, after more than 15 years as a researcher. Here are some insights into what she enjoys about this wide-ranging role.

What does the job involve?

The major part of the job is to coordinate our research funding calls, but it’s not just about funding research. I also work with researchers to help find participants for projects, organize lay review of applications and study protocols, track current research projects, organise reporting, help to develop our research strategy- and so much more!

As a Research Manager, I’m really lucky to be able to keep in touch with cutting-edge research. Although I’m no longer doing my own research, by speaking to researchers and reading through their applications and papers, I stay up to date with all of the latest research. I don’t miss being in the lab, as I get to be involved in a much wider range of research projects now. We fund all sorts of projects, looking at all types of hair loss, which is so much more varied than working on one specific research project.

How do you decide who gets funded?

The short answer is, I don’t. I advertise the funding calls, read through all the applications, and organise peer and lay review for the bigger applications, before sending out all that information to our Research Committee. It’s really important that the people we ask to review the grants (our ‘peer reviewers’) are qualified in their field and don’t have any conflicts of interest. It’s also critical that the grants are reviewed from the perspective of people affected by alopecia, which is why members of our Lay Research Panel also review funding applications.

Our Research Committee meet up and make a recommendation to the trustees of the charity, who then have the final say as to which projects will be funded. It is then up to me to deliver the good or bad news as to whether an applicant has been awarded funding. I also provide feedback from the Committee’s discussions both to successful and unsuccessful applicants. This gives people the chance to improve their application for an increased chance of success next time around.

Getting involved with the research community

Getting to meet researchers is one of my favourite parts of the job, and it’s really important that we keep in close contact with the people that we fund. You find out a lot more about how well a project is progressing by going to visit them than you do by email or over the phone. Before the lockdown, I regularly went out to visit researchers with projects funded by us and members of our Research Committee, and I am looking forward to getting to do that again- somehow a virtual meeting isn’t quite the same!

We are involved with a number of relevant organisations, like the Association of Medical research Charities, the National Institute for Health Research, the Charities Research Interest Group and Understanding Patient Data, so I get to take part in the meetings and courses they organize. I also attend research conferences to keep up to date with the latest in hair research- it’s really important that we know what is going on the field as this helps us to decide how to organize our future funding rounds and identify gaps in current research. 

As the Research Manager for Alopecia UK, I am also responsible for helping to create a research strategy and delivery plan. We are due to draft new versions of these in 2021, so a lot of my time in the next year will be spent working with members of our Research Committee on this project.

We are beginning to work with other charities, to try and push forward research into links between different types of autoimmune conditions. We increasingly keep in touch with pharmaceutical companies, to keep abreast of the latest clinical trials for hair loss therapies, and I’m also a member of the British Society for Immunology, to make sure that I can stay up to date with the latest research.

Making a difference

Being the research manager at Alopecia UK is a fantastic role; it’s varied, fun and often demanding. It’s also a real chance to make a difference: by helping to fund research, involving people affected by alopecia in research or even just helping to find participants for a particular study, I feel like I am helping to advance alopecia research.

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