Alison Pearce who has just been awarded a UTS Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship talks about her experience undertaking her post-doc at the National Registry in Ireland.

I was excited, but nervous when I decided to do a post-doc overseas. Having been in Ireland for two years now, I’m so glad I took the plunge.

As I approached the end of my PhD at CHERE I started looking for post-docs in cancer health economics and decided to look in Sydney and overseas. When I saw a post-doc advertised at the National Cancer Registry in Ireland it was perfect - examining the health economics of cancer survivorship. After a bit of Googling to find out where exactly Cork was, and discovering that my husband could also get a job there, we decided to go for it.

My post-doc is funded by the Irish Health Research Board under the Interdisciplinary Capacity Enhancement (ICE) Awards. This innovative postdoctoral fellowship scheme is specific to population health and health services research. Interdisciplinary teams of senior, established researchers come together to apply for one to three postdoctoral fellows to join their team and work collaboratively on a population health or health services research project.

The ICE Award I am involved in is Challenges in cancer survivorship – costs, inequalities and post-treatment follow-up. The three postdocs on the fellowship are a sociologist, a qualitative researcher and myself as the health economist. Our interdisciplinary senior research team is made of epidemiologists, psychologists, sociologists and health economists, all working in health services research.

My postdoc has been in two areas – lost productivity and cancer follow-up. When individuals take time off work (either paid or unpaid) this represents a loss of productivity to society. During my postdoc the main things I have done are: valued lost productivity associated with time off work after head and neck cancer; estimated projections of lost productivity due to cancer mortality in Ireland for the next 20 years; estimated lost productivity due to cancer in emerging economies.

For cancer follow-up, patients in Ireland have traditionally continued going back to their cancer specialist for years after their cancer treatment is complete. I have supervised two students developing economic models to determine the cost effectiveness of moving this follow-up care out of the specialist hospital setting. I have also led the development of a discrete choice experiment to identify patient preferences for how follow-up care is provided after prostate or colorectal cancer, which is currently underway.

The ICE Awards are primarily development awards for postdoctoral researchers, and as such funds are provided to support training activities. I have relished the opportunity to attend many training courses and conferences throughout Europe because I have not only learnt a lot, but also enjoyed developing a network of collaborators, colleagues and friends. In addition, the ICE Awards encourage Research Experience Placements to work with international experts for a few weeks or months. Early in 2015 I went to the International Association of Research in Cancer in Lyon funded by an EU COST CANWON fellowship. And I am lucky enough to be heading to the Health Economics Research Unit at the University of Aberdeen in early 2016 to learn more about discrete choice experiments.

Living overseas has been challenging in lots of ways – being away from family and friends, being in a research landscape where I had no established support network, and not knowing the healthcare system have all been difficult. But there have been so many benefits that I wouldn’t change anything. I would encourage anyone with the opportunity to do a post-doc (or other job) overseas to embrace the challenges and enjoy the many benefits. Slainte!