This week, Carolyn Sleith, who changed career in her 40s, writes about her transition from engineer to information scientist with Healthcare Improvement Scotland.
Library and Information science was a career change for me when I was in my 40s. I had previous been a semiconductor process engineer and had run my own 3D laser scanning business with my husband. My son was in P2 at school and I wanted to return to work. But I couldn’t go back to semiconductors as Motorola had closed down and, although I could have found another sector, I decided that I had an opportunity to make a real change in my life. So I tried the Prospects computer program that graduates use to help decide on careers. It’s much easier when you’re 40 as you know yourself a whole lot better and you know exactly what you like and dislike doing. Quite close to the top of the list was public librarian and after looking at the job profile I decided that there were many aspects of the job that I would like and be good at, and very few that I was likely to hate. After scouting about for courses and exchanging emails I was given a place on the ILS course at the University of Strathclyde. At that time they still offered it part-time which really suited me as it meant I could broadly fit it around school hours.
I really enjoyed being back at university, despite being twice as old as everyone else in my class. I loved my courses on information retrieval and information sources. Information Sources involved writing an article for Wikipedia on the Glenturret Distillery which I am still quite proud of. I’d like to do more Wikipedia work, but it does take a lot of time and it can be hard to find gaps now. I particularly enjoyed my placements at the Mitchell Library and Jordanhill. But it became clear there were no jobs in public librarianship in Glasgow. The course director at Strathclyde encouraged me to look at the health sector as my science background meant it would be a good fit. This was something I hadn’t considered as I really had my heart set on being a public or academic librarian. While I was working on my dissertation, which I also really enjoyed, I applied for a number of library jobs in the public, academic and health sectors.
To my great surprise, despite my lack of experience, I was successful at my interview for health Information scientist at what was known then as QIS (Quality Improvement Scotland). Then began the most fun I have ever had at a job. For the entire year of my contract, I learned so much about systematic literature searching. I also got to do some other more traditional library work and things like current awareness and the Clinical Enquiry and Response Service (CLEAR). When I had to leave at the end of my contract I was devastated, but within a month I had another interview and I was back with a slightly different job title. In the next nine months I enhanced my training skills and became more confident. A few months before my contract was due to end again, an opportunity came up for an Information Scientist at SIGN (Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network) which was still part of Healthcare Improvement Scotland. The job concentrated more on literature searching, but also had a large critical appraisal component that my previous post hadn’t had. I found myself on quite a steep learning curve to learn how appraise the various study types and how to use the Evidence Management System.
This job also involves working with the guideline group members who are mostly clinical people and patient representatives. I work with them to put together the research questions that I use for the literature search and which go on to make the main structure and content of the guideline. We then work with the groups to work out what the evidence means in terms of the recommendations they can make in the guideline.
My day normally starts with checking my emails for messages from my program manager, group members or for CLEAR enquiries. I then usually have a search or a sift to be getting on with. We tend to undertake very sensitive searches in order to gather all possible evidence for guidelines, but this does lend itself to large sifts. Sometimes I might break up the sifting with some critical appraisal and data extraction to produce evidence tables for the group members. Sometimes I have to attend group meetings, which can be all day affairs and demand a lot of concentration to follow the sometimes highly clinical discussions that the group members have about the evidence. I may also have training to do either in the PICO format of questions or on SIGN methodology. Last year I got to visit Singapore and train a group of clinicians there on doing guidelines the SIGN way.
The best things about my job are the very interesting topics that we have to know quite a bit about in order to do the searching effectively. I’ve recently been doing online physiology courses via Coursera and Futurelearn to improve my medical knowledge. I also like working with the group members as they are all so dedicated to their patients and giving them the best treatment and experience that they can. I also like working with the information scientists at Healthcare Improvement Scotland and we have a great team there.
There are one or two downsides. Even though I can be extremely busy with the evidence review for a guideline, we still have to cover the CLEAR service and right now we’re low on staff and I have a duty everyday. But doing a digest still gives me a bit of an adrenaline rush as I have to focus, search and write it up as quickly as possible, but still producing a good product that satisfies the thorough QA process. Also, getting a thorough literature review done to a sensible timescale can be difficult, especially if there is a lot of conflicting and unclear evidence, but we are changing the evidence review process so that group members are not involved. Instead we work with the Health Service Researchers at HIS to do the job. Also every guideline is slightly different so we often need to be quite flexible, but still adhering to the methodology of guideline development.
Thanks to Carolyn – one of the lovely things about editing this blog is reconnecting with people: I remember Carolyn from working with her on her placement at Jordanhill. Carolyn is happy to answer any questions left in the reply box below – please add your comments. You can also find her on Twitter @CarolynSleith.