Skip to main content

How to build a career in nurse research

Published on: 17 Feb 2021

An advanced nurse practitioner shares her advice on how to build a career in nurse research.

Advanced nurse practitioner Helen Pearson

>Search our nursing jobs

Research has a real impact on shaping patient care for the better, yet many nurses lack opportunities to become involved, says Helen Pearson, the first paediatric nurse at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to achieve a prestigious national research fellowship.

‘It’s only through doing research that we move forward and improve patients’ and families’ treatment and experience,’ says Ms Pearson, an advanced nurse practitioner (ANP) for children and young people with solid tumours, who is studying for a PhD at the University of Southampton.

‘As a profession, nurses are caring, compassionate and want to make a difference to the lives of patients,’ she says.

‘The aspects of research we undertake are going to be different to those of our medical and allied professional colleagues. In caring for patients, we work in multidisciplinary teams and everyone brings a unique contribution – that should be the same for research.’

While she is keen to encourage other nurses to think about research, she understands many face significant barriers, including lack of time or finance.

‘If you are working full-time clinically, trying to do your PhD or some research on the side is a lot of work and it does cost money,’ she says.

Other barriers may include your employer’s attitude. ‘It’s about whether or not you work in an NHS trust that is research-active and supports nursing research,’ she adds.

>Search our nurse jobs

Tips for nurses on how to get involved in nurse research

Here is Ms Pearson's advice if you are considering a career in nurse research:

Be passionate about improving the patient experience
‘That was my own research starting point. You are living and breathing it and you need to believe in what you’re doing. You need to be your own cheerleader’
Bear in mind grants and fellowships are limited
‘You will get rejected – that’s the nature of the research world. But determination pays off. I was disappointed when I didn’t get my fellowship the first time, but I believed in what I was doing and knew I wanted to keep going. Perseverance is necessary’
Create a network of like-minded researchers at local, national and international level
‘Seek out those in your own organisation who do research and find out about their experiences’
If you opt to do a PhD, choose both your supervisor and university wisely
‘Your supervisor needs to have experience in your research topic or field of practice, and they need to believe in you. Choose a university that has a good track record of supporting students, seeing them through to completion, with a strong PhD community. Working on your PhD can be quite lonely, so having a support network is important’

>Search our nurse vacancies


This is an abridged version of the article A nurse’s guide to entering the research world which was first published in Nursing Standard.

Read more careers articles on Nursing Standard