Jane Sarginson

The time felt right for me to return to research

Even before the sudden loss of her husband, Jane was interested in the links between mental and physical health but enduring her own personal loss helped to focus her passions to return to research.

My parents bought me my first chemistry set at 9 years old

Jane had initially trained as a biochemist and then eventually moved into psychiatric genetic research. Jane says: “I’ve always been really interested in how our experiences, particularly stressful ones, and previous environmental exposures, like smoking or ill health, affect how we respond to changes in our environment and how our genetics modify those changes. It wasn’t really surprising when I started drifting towards genetic epidemiology.”

Jane obtained a PhD in 2003 in mental health, specifically the genetic basis of schizophrenia, from the University of Aberdeen. She had a number of papers published as a first author and been working in the field of mental health research for a while.

It was in July 2010, whilst living in California and working as a Research Associate in pharmacogenetics at Stanford University at the time, that her husband was killed in a commercial helicopter crash. His death led to Jane dealing with bereavement as well as the running of her husband’s business and resolving difficult legal issues as a result. She was mentally and physically drained, and the significant strain on her health forced her to resign from her job.

Needing some time away to recover, Jane embarked upon a year’s travelling around the world where she became involved in some rewarding charity projects, before returning to the UK in 2012.

Jane says, “I began to look for a new research position but I was unable to secure a post which suited my qualifications, experience and interests after over four years out of research. I also was in need to undertake retraining, specifically to improve my programming and analysis skills around cognitive, behavioural and psychiatric assessment. I thrive on collaborative research environments and eager to get back to it.”

Jane first heard of the Daphne Jackson Trust and approached in 2013.

Jane says, “I learnt about an opportunity of a Fellowship at the Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (GMPSTRC) which seemed to be an excellent fit with my interests in mental health and epidemiology. I also, at the time, had been undertaking part-time voluntary work at Manchester University to gain a better idea of what skills I needed to develop and where my pre-existing skills would best fit.  My Fellowship Advisor Indi encouraged me to develop and submit a research proposal. I was enormously grateful to the Trust as I felt the Fellowship offered me the opportunity to retrain in certain areas but also would complement my pre-existing biological expertise.”

The main aim of Jane’s Fellowship project is to improve understanding of how people with depression are currently being treated in primary care and identify ways to improve that treatment. Her project consisted of using anonymized patient records to track changes in the clinical management of depression in children and you people between 2000 and 2015.

Jane says, “My ultimate career goal and ambition is to stay in research and stratified medicine but if that is not possible, I feel the types of skills I am learning during my Fellowship, which includes large scale data management and assessment, as well as the professional development skills taught on the compulsory courses offered by the Trust, will definitely improve my job prospects.”

Jane’s tips for returners

  • Consider refreshing your skills with online courses which are easier to complete outside of usual working hours and may fit better around other home or family commitments.
  • Research is full of setbacks and wrong turns, so pick something you are passionate enough about to keep going. My degree is in biochemistry, but I spent a lot of time working with psychologists and clinical researchers and am very interested in the translation of basic research into medical treatments.
  • Attend everything you’re able to e.g. lectures to refresh and extend your knowledge.

Dr Sarginson’s Fellowship was sponsored by the NIHR Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (Greater Manchester PSTRC). The Fellowship was hosted by The University of Manchester under the supervision of Professor Darren Ashcroft and Professor Roger Webb.

Jane Sarginson