9 November 2023
Hey everyone! I wanted to share the exciting news that this October, I started a new chapter in my research career. I was recently awarded an NIHR predoctoral fellowship, which I’ll be working on over the next year. This is a huge step for me—one I’m both thrilled and a little nervous about. Let me back up and explain how I got here.
Since December 2022, I’ve been working as a community researcher with an organization called Common Ambition Bristol (CAB). CAB is running a major 3-year project in Bristol to reduce HIV rates and improve sexual health in the city’s African and Caribbean communities. As part of their team, I got to sit down with community members, run focus groups, carry out interviews, do qualitative data analysis and collect people’s feedback to evaluate CAB’s programmes.
Collaborating directly with the communities was so eye-opening. I got to hear people’s personal struggles and really understand the many barriers Africans like me face in getting proper sexual healthcare—from cultural taboos to discrimination in health services. Through open conversations, I learned how factors like cultural taboos and discrimination erect complex obstacles to health equity. Those conversations showed me how complex the roots of sexual health disparities can be. I realised I wanted to dig deeper into this issue, which marginalises so many African communities.
These experiences reaffirmed concepts I had studied during my recent MSc Public Health programme at the University of Bristol. Course modules on health inequalities, social determinants, and working with communities all underscored the same themes. My classmates and I had discussed these public health challenges through an academic lens. Now, I was seeing them vividly enacted in real life.
When the NIHR fellowship opportunity came up, focusing my research here seemed like a great way to drive change on a bigger scale. The fellowship will let me spend the next year researching sexual health disparities among Africans and includes research training and development to prepare for a PhD programme. It’s an amazing chance to grow as a researcher!
Starting in October, my first project is a scoping review of what’s already known about sexual health access for African communities. This will highlight key gaps, so I can choose a defined research problem for my PhD. It’s a crucial first step before I dive into my doctoral work.
Of course, moving from grassroots community research to academic work brings some challenges too. I’ll need to really work to stay connected to the communities I’ve collaborated with and keep their needs and perspectives at the heart of my research. The fellowship’s leadership training should help me become a stronger public communicator too, so I can make my work accessible and actionable for the people it aims to help.
I’m so grateful for the relationships, support and on-the-ground insights I gained as a community researcher. That experience showed me firsthand why I’m passionate about health equity. My goal remains the same—to pursue research that ultimately empowers under-served communities.
I can’t wait to see the new things I’ll learn and ways I can have impact as an NIHR predoc fellow. This next chapter will stretch me for sure, but that’s how we grow. Wish me luck!