Interview with Dr Parisa Mansoori

Dr Parisa Mansoori, is the Mental Health Translational Research Collaboration (MH-TRC) Collaboration Operations Manager, at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The NIHR Maudsley BRC is one of 14 MH-TRC members. Parisa started in the role in February 2019. Follow Parisa on Twitter @parisamansoori.

What is the NIHR Mental Health Translational Research Collaboration?

It is a national collaboration bringing together the UK’s collective resources for experimental medicine and early phase clinical trials in mental health and in research areas that have implications for mental health, such as medical informatics.

We are a unified and coherent front to funders, including the government, charity, and industry, and generally we aim to raise the profile of mental health research, to ensure that mental health receives its deserved public attention and investment. Another area that we work in is capacity development to increase mental health research workforce nationally, particularly outside London.

Our members include all the NIHR Infrastructure in the space of mental health (Biomedical Research Centres and Clinical Research Facilities), their equivalent in Wales and Scotland and a few other centres in England who have excellent capacity for mental health research but do not yet have a mental health theme in their NIHR Infrastructure. (You can find a map of all our collaborating sites on the MH-TRC webpage).

What does your role involve? 

I manage the MH-TRC. My role has various aspects. I primarily facilitate and support the setting up of collaborative projects and at times support their delivery too. I organise regular meetings for the MH-TRC Co-Chairs, Oversight Group, and its workstreams in Early Psychosis, Treatment Resistant Depression, Medical Informatics, Mental Health BioResource, and Training.

Academics share their research ideas, industry offers, or project outlines with the potential for becoming a multi-site study which I then share with relevant experts across our national network and collect feedback. I bring all the interested parties together to discuss the ideas and plan a collaborative project if appropriate. The value here is the pace at which we mobilise people and our national outreach.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, our TRC proved to be really helpful for the research community because we could link people up to like-minded experts quickly. This led to various collaborative multi-site projects, and exchange of research tools, contacts, and so on.

I also help with exchange of knowledge and experiences between various centres by conducting mapping exercises, such as mapping of capability and facilities, Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) strategies and activities, or training opportunities.

I keep myself updated with the broader NIHR landscape for potential opportunities, for example priority-setting exercises that could inform future funding calls or initiatives in the NIHR Academy for capacity building such as the Mental Health Incubator. I ensure projects on our portfolio speak to each other when there is value, such as with the Principal Investigators of the COVID-CNS study, including Professor Gerome Breen from NIHR Maudsley BRC, and the PHOSP-COVID study to ensure the two studies are harmonised. I also promoted the GLAD study across our Treatment Resistant Depression and Early Psychosis workstreams to encourage use of this valuable trial-ready cohort by academics.

Finally, once or twice a month, I attend meetings discussing research policies at the national level. I advocate for mental health to ensure it will be considered from early stages in any initiative related to health research.

How does your role work with our BRC and others?

The MH-TRC was established in 2018 by Professor Matthew Hotopf CBE, the Director of the NIHR Maudsley BRC, as the first Chair of the MH-TRC, and Professor John Geddes, Director of Oxford Health BRC, as the first Deputy Chair. 

We now have adopted a triumvirate leadership model with three brilliant Co-Chairs to ensure sustained and inclusive leadership: Professor. Geddes is our Present Chair, Professor Hotopf the Emeritus Chair and Professor Rachel Upthegrove from the University of Birmingham, the Deputy Chair.

We regularly review activities and discuss emerging opportunities for the TRC.

I am in regular contact with all our other 14 members, some of whom are not part of the NIHR Infrastructure. We have an Academic Lead from each of our collaborating sites on our Oversight Group, an Operational Lead, and also an average of 10 academics from each site who are part of our several workstreams and I try to support them all through activities mentioned earlier.

Tell us about your career

I completed a six-year programme at the School of Pharmacy at Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran. I chose pharmacy mainly due to social pressure – as a teenager, I wanted to study landscape designing instead. I don’t regret that choice because I learned about my passion for mental health and the experiences that I acquired while working as a pharmacist were key in strengthening some of my core values.

One of my professors specialised in psychopharmacotherapy advised me to start shadowing psychiatrists at hospital clinics. I was fascinated learning about the brain and the psychosocial aspects of health and I started going to the psychiatry clinics whenever I could. I decided to work on a mental health research related project for my dissertation and focused on sexual dysfunction side effect of a group of anti-depressant drugs called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).

At the same time, I worked part time as a pharmacist, for a year in a pharmacy in a deprived part of Tehran and for another year answering calls to a helpline at a national drug and poison information centre. These experiences made me learn more about social determinants of health, health inequalities, and the key role of policies in population health.

I then worked as a Research Assistant in a Mental Health Research Centre. I contributed to delivery of a few clinical trials and worked as an editorial assistant for a national psychiatry journal where gradually I developed an interest in various aspects of health research - where publications are only one component of this bigger system. I worked in a developing country where resources for research are really limited and whenever we received a new submission to our journal I considered whether doing that research was a reasonable use of the resources and whether it was answering the real needs.

This encouraged me to learn more about health research systems and pursue a PhD.  I got a scholarship from the University of Edinburgh to focus on global health research. I studied different approaches and tools for the efficient use of resources to increase high-quality and essential health research. This led me to look for job opportunities at funding organisations where I could put what I had learned into practice. Surprisingly, the first job ad which I saw and applied for was for my current role at the NIHR that was a mix of my more recent interest in health research system and my everlasting interest in mental health research.

What are you most proud of?

I have worked in a wide range of professions, sectors, and settings. I am most proud of the people I served or worked with throughout my career, either patients, carers, academics, policy-makers, clinicians, professional services staff, they all seemed to have been trusting me and that has been incredibly precious.

How did you get interested in research?

I didn’t know much about research until I was at the School of Pharmacy. When I discovered my interest in mental health, I found out that by working on a mental health research project I could spend more time in mental health settings and expand my knowledge in that area. So, I first got interested in mental health and later in research.

Any favourite parts of your role?

There are many. One of my most favourite parts is the alignment of the role with my values: equity and justice. Neglecting one area of health on the basis that it seems different to areas that we are more informed about is simply unjust. I believe trying to raise the profile of mental health research ultimately leads to improvements in the lives of those who struggle with mental ill-health, a struggle that should be unacceptable, and I am proud by being a contribution to the positive change.

I also get to work with a wide range of people in various sectors (charities, universities, NHS Trusts, companies, funding organisations, the government) and I like being the liaising person between these while also learning from them all.

What does an average working day look like for you?

They are varied. However, a big chunk of my time is spent organising meetings. I’m in charge of ensuring lots of different groups meet regularly to keep the momentum going.  I prepare the meeting agendas which I enjoy because I can suggest to meeting chairs agenda items or potential external speakers to invite based on ideas that our community send to me or opportunities or challenges that I identify. I am also responsible for the operational management of the meetings and following up all the actions e.g. organising further meetings, webinars, workshops, or conferences. I also spend quite a lot of time in internal meetings within various coordinating centres of the NIHR where I get updated about the wider NIHR activities. Finally, like many others, some of my days are fully dedicated to reporting tasks.

What are you working on at the moment?

Several projects! One that I am most excited about is identifying research priorities in children and young people mental health to ultimately improve mental health services and treatment for people aged between 11 to 25 years old.  We are using a crowdsourcing method called CHNRI to develop a list of feasible and fairly specific research questions that could address the priorities that were identified through the McPin Foundation & James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnership: Identifying the Research Priorities in Children and Young People’s Mental Health.

So far, 44 leading children and young people mental health researchers from across the UK have participated in this project. They have collectively generated and ranked a list of 87 research questions against a set of five criteria. We are now working with McPin to invite their stakeholders and young advisors to score the questions and identify the top priorities for us. I am working with colleagues in the NIHR to make the dissemination and comms plan as we will soon have the final results.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your work / life?

I used to be partially remote working before the pandemic. Since March 2020, I have been working entirely from home. I share one working space at home with my partner which has its own challenges particularly when our meetings clash. Pre-pandemic, I used to travel to meet with our collaborators across the UK which obviously has stopped.

The community that I work with has become slightly more available. At the same time, I had to be more mindful about not to overwhelm them with too many meetings as many have got virtual meeting fatigue now. Once the pandemic is over, we will need to run a survey to see if people would ever want to meet face to face again – especially to factor in people who need to travel from all across the UK.

A positive change is that we used to have many teleconferences before, which always felt bizarre to have 30 people on a phone call. But now all the teleconferences have moved to be virtual video meetings where participants use the Chat function and see each other – I hope we will never go back to using teleconferences for large meetings.

The most important impact on my personal life is that I haven’t been able to see my parents other than in video calls for more than 14 months now because that would require international travel.

Favourite book / TV series / box set

I very much enjoyed reading Into the Abyss by Anthony David and This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay (audio version narrated by Adam Kay).

TV series that I watched in 2020 and liked: A Perfect Planet; After Life; The life after; I am now following BBC's Interior Design Masters. Watching Friends has also remained with me.

I watched plenty of films in 2020 that I would recommend: Sorry We Missed You (2019); Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019); Pain and Glory (2019); The kid with a bike (2011); Lunchbox (2013); Our little sister (2015); Sweet Bean (2015); The Servant (1963); and documentaries such as Coup 53 (2019); A life on our planet (2020); 13th(2016); The Story of Diana (2017); and several good short documentaries on Films for Action library.

How would you spend your perfect Saturday?

I would start off by preparing a great brunch while listening to a podcast. I’d spend time in nature with my partner (particularly working on our quarter plot on the allotment if the sun is out). I’d also have a video call with my parents and sister - we live in three distinct continents so time-wise a family call can only happen on weekends! We have recently started cooking sessions on weekends with an international group of friends which is quite fun! Every weekend one of us would teach a recipe and we cook all together (remotely).

What has been your best discovery of the lockdown(s)?

I gave outdoor running a try for the very first time using the Couch to 5K app and finishing it was quite an accomplishment for me!

Since April 2020, I have been watching a swan family at a local park when five tiny cygnets were just born till now that three have survived and are starting to look like young adults and have started flying too.

Tags: BRC Interview Series - Staff News -

By NIHR Maudsley BRC at 10 Mar 2021, 08:30 AM

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