An interview with Zunera Khan

Zunera Khan is the Research Portfolio Lead in the Department of Old Age Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience and the NIHR Maudsley BRC. She works on studies such as PROTECT and e-BAME

Please can you give us an overview of your role(s)?

My role has evolved from data collection to management of clinical trials in dementia, with my current role being the BRC Portfolio Lead. This role entails the management of clinical trials within my department, as well as seeking further research funding opportunities for our teams. The element of my research which interests me most is the role of nonverbal communication in the quality of life of people with dementia which I’ve been studying through my PhD.

My personal experiences of having my mother living with dementia has increased my interest in communication and in both identifying and helping to meet the needs of people with dementia.

At the moment I am continuing my research in communicating with patients in dementia while also working on projects to engage ethnic communities and meet the diverse needs that exist in our local communities. Working within the NIHR Maudsley BRC allows me to fulfil my aspiration by having diversity in my research and giving me the opportunity to engage with people where they are in the local community.

Can you give a brief overview of your career? What are you most proud of? 

I received my MSc in Clinical Neurosciences from University College London in 2006, which reinforced my interest in clinical research and patient interaction. I started my research career in the West London Centre for Cancer Research Network prior to moving to research in dementia at King’s College London in 2007. At King’s I started as a junior research associate and have since accelerated my career to my current post as Research Portfolio Lead. Throughout my years at King’s I have contributed to a range of clinical research trials in dementia, both pharmacological and nonpharmacological.

This experience has helped me to build a profile of research skills from data collection, data entry, to planning management and writing grants applications. In addition to holding a full-time position, I managed to submit a PhD thesis focusing on nonverbal communication and quality of life of people living with dementia, which I believe is my major accomplishments in my career. My study helps to highlight nonverbal communication as a base therapeutic target in psychosocial intervention models for this population. One of my recent achievements has been a successful King’s Together Grant proposal with Professor Dag Aarsland to assess the impact of social isolation on the health needs of older adults during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

How did you get interested in research?

I have always had an interest in working with patients and having done a Master’s in Clinical Neuroscience I became set on clinical research within academia. My interest in dementia developed from my personal experience of dementia in my family, and later caring for my own mother who developed dementia.

Often people in the later stages of dementia are not able to express their needs fully, which leads to further complex care needs and behavioural symptoms. Improving awareness in caregivers to address distinct nonverbal communication needs may help them connect and improve care.

While nonverbal communication is the key focus of my PhD, I have maintained other interests related to wellbeing and health needs of society, including supporting people from ethnic communities. One of my current projects is focused on understanding the health needs and wellbeing of Black and Asian ethnic communities and faith groups who are underrepresented in research and service use. The project aims to understand key issues of our ethnic communities to better target future research needs and improve service use.

Any favourite parts of your role?

The best part of my role is that I gain experience in all form of research activities, from patient contact, data collection to management and grants applications. My PhD has allowed me to enjoy working with people living with dementia and their caregivers in care homes to understand the needs of residents and their caregivers to improve quality of life and wellbeing.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your work / life? What Covid-19 specific projects have you worked on?

I have been part of successful grants for Covid-19 where I initiated a successful research proposal to investigate how loneliness impacts the health care needs of older adults during the pandemic through the PROTECT COVID-19 survey. Other key areas have been our E-BAME study, where I played an integral role in launching an online survey to understand needs of our Black and Asian ethnic communities. Having been disproportionally hit by the pandemic, this cohort is underrepresented in research and service use.

It’s been great to have been so busy with number of projects during the pandemic, but, like so many others, I have missed social contact with my friends and colleagues at work and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues face to face and enjoying our lunch time chit chats.

Are there any aspects of your role which would surprise someone to know?

Working as research portfolio lead doesn’t only involve the management aspect, it also involves developing a number of skills and even some creative work such as learning to make and edit a promotional study video myself. This allowed me to work out of my comfort zone, co-writing the script, collating all the clips and stitching them together to make a whole promotional study video to reach out to wider public through social media.

What does an average working day look like for you?

I am currently working from home and I have been working on a number of study activities, including assessments, meetings and planning study recruitment activities. On top of all my research activities, being a mum is also an important part of my daily routine. Working full time and being a mum of three requires finding the right balance between profession and parenthood. This means careful planning of time with compartmentalizing your responsibilities and tasks. Most essentially, I feel that we all do need to take a moment at the end of the day to have some time to ourselves to regain our energies.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working to launch an online intervention to improve loneliness and resilience in older adults. Other key studies involve the E-BAME study and WHELD programme to improve quality of life of people living with dementia. In addition to my research, I also lead the NIHR Maudsley BRC dementia service user and carer group, MALADY, which provides invaluable experience-led insight and advice for our researchers.

All about you

Favourite book / TV series / box set of 2020

Friends is my all times favourite, can watch it again and again!

Who is your science hero?

Imran Khan

How would you spend your perfect Saturday?

Cooking for kids and enjoying quality time with family

Best discovery of lock down

I can bake and paint!

Tags: BRC Interview Series - Staff News -

By NIHR Maudsley BRC at 2 Jun 2021, 15:30 PM

Back to Blog List