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Identifying and addressing shared challenges in conducting health and social care research for older people (OPAL)

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What is OPAL?

On June 11th, at The Medical School (FMB) of São Paulo State University (UNESP), Botucatu Campus 13 UK, and 17 Brazilian early career researchers (ECRs) came together for a 5-day workshop to look at developing collaborative research identifying and addressing shared challenges in conducting health and social care research for older people (OPAL).

Why did you decide to run the OPAL workshop?

After having attended Newton Researcher Links funded workshops in various exciting locations, early in 2017, Kathryn Hinsliff-Smith had the idea of the OPAL workshop. Kathryn took the initiative to put together a team and led an application to the British Research Council and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) for funding to host this workshop. We already had some experience of working with Brazilian colleagues, but this time our vision was to bring older people related researchers together and develop collaborative research which addresses the needs of older people.

What was your role in the workshop?

In October 2017 we were absolutely thrilled when we heard that we had been successful in getting the funding, and since then, with the four mentors (2 UK and 2 Brazilian) we’ve been planning and preparing the for workshop. We travelled to Botucatu a few days earlier than the rest of the group to ensure everything was in place to start and welcome the ECRs on Monday morning. We both woke up on Monday morning thoroughly excited for the week ahead.

How did it go?

With the mentor line up, we always knew that we were in for a treat. We spent 5 days under the mentorship of Adam Gordon, Tom Dening, Jay Banerjee, Alessandro Ferrari Jacinto, Vanessa De Albuquerque, and Paulo Joes Fortes Villas Boas. We had the wonderful privilege of hearing each mentor speak about their research and set the scene for thinking about the challenges in conducting health and social care research for older people, both in the UK and Brazil. The mentors were on hand all week, and guided the ECR working groups. On the last day, each working group presented their research project in the style of ‘Dragons Den’ or ‘Shark Tank’ as known in Brazil, and pitched their project ideas, and each ‘dragon/shark’ could then decide which projects they wanted to support as mentors.

We were also lucky enough to be joined by Paula Azevedo Gaiolla who kindly organised two early morning activities, a sunrise walk, and a guided waterfall excursion. It was a great experience for ECRs to bond over morning walks and brave climbing the slippery rocks on the way to the waterfall. Then to top it off we had the pleasure of attending an incredible show by one of the greatest pianists in Brazil, Hércules Gomes, and musician Rodrigo Y Castro. This was a fund raising evening to help raise money for the local publically funded hospital.

Would you do it again?

Definitely yes! It was so invigorating to meet with such talented ECRs, exchange conversations and ideas, and also to be led by inspiring and encouraging mentors. The months of planning and preparation definitely paid off, and we are delighted that it went so well. One evening, over drinks and dinner we talked about doing the same workshop in Cape Town, Thailand, and India too. We will look into this!

What is next?

We are sure that more exciting developments are yet to come. Our working group consists of myself, Kathryn, Victoria Shephard (Cardiff University), Natalia Ricci (Universidade Cidade de São Paulo UNICID), and Patrick Wachholz (São Paulo State University, UNESP). We’re planning to develop research which aims to understand more about Brazilian long term care institutions (LTCIs).

Needless to say, we are absolutely delighted and so excited to be developing lots of research activity in Brazil. Even with a 24-hour journey home, and feeling the effects of jetlag it’s difficult to come down from the cloud nine feeling that the workshop has left us with. The adventure has just begun and there will be more to come! To follow OPAL activity see our Twitter feed #OPAL2018.


Dr Reena Devi @_DrReenaDevi

Dr Kathryn Hinsliff-Smith @HinsliffK 

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