MRC Studentship: Social Science Research Group, University of Leicester Medical School

The Social Science Research Group at the Department for Health Sciences, University of Leicester has a three-year Medical Research Council PhD studentship available to start in the 2008/9 academic year. The project will involve conducting an ethnographic study of organisational, social, and professional barriers to harmonising cancer tissue banks for research. A brief outline of the project is given at the end of this advertisement.

We are seeking applications from individuals who have a sound background in the social sciences (ideally medical sociology or social studies of science, though other disciplines will be considered) or who have a sound background in a relevant clinical area (e.g. cancer nursing) or scientific background (e.g. biological sciences) and have insight into social science method and theory. Candidates will ideally be educated to MSc level. This PhD will be very attractive to those wishing to pursue a career in social science applied to health and science.

The studentship will be under the supervision of Professor Mary Dixon-Woods, and will involve collaboration with researchers in and outside Leicester, thus ensuring a rich research environment at the interface of social science, clinical practice, and the life sciences.

This studentship will cover full fees for UK/EU students, a research training support grant and conference allowance, and a basic stipend of £12,940 per annum. The studentship is available to candidates who can demonstrate a relevant connection to the United Kingdom.

For informal discussion, please contact Mary Dixon-Woods: [email protected]; tel +441162297262 staff/staff-profiles/staff-member-2/mary-dixon-woods-1

Applicants should send a statement of interest (no more than 1 page) and a CV with details of two referees to:

Professor Mary Dixon-Woods Social Science Research Group Department of Health Sciences 2nd Floor, Adrian Building, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH

The closing date for applications is Monday 1 September 2008.

Project outline:

Many cancers are individually rare and large numbers of samples may be required in order to obtain meaningful results. Thus collections of human material, known as tissue or tumour banks, have become an increasingly important way of assembling adequate material for high quality research. Tissue banks have several advantages for researchers, allowing research to be carried out which would be impossible using patients recruited from a single institution. Increasingly, efforts are focusing on how to harmonise tissue banks in order to produce common standards for the custodianship of the samples, ensure uniformity of quality and information, and facilitate exchange between researchers, institutions, and different countries.

Achieving these aspirations for harmonisation will, however, very much depend on what happens at the “sharp end” of practice, which may be a long way from where policies, procedures, and rules are devised. Any attempts to harmonise cancer biobanks will need to engage with potentially very challenging and complex social and organisational issues. Although most attention in the literature so far has focused on the issues raised by ethical issues at the patient level such as consent (and what kind of consent), and on incompatibilities between regulatory regimes in different countries, it is likely that many of the barriers to harmonisation will function at an organisational, social and professional level. For example, collection and storage of tissue samples for research involves a whole series of logistical problems that must be overcome by hospitals, teams and individuals who may not recognise the value or have any incentive to engage. Allowing others to access collected tissue is a form of collective action in the interests of the public good that raises important, but much neglected, questions about trust and cooperation, while many technical issues around harmonisation may be simple in technical terms but be socially difficult to resolve. This project will aim to identify and characterise organisational, social and professional barriers and facilitators to harmonisation of cancer tissue banking.

The PhD student will conduct a critical review of the literature on harmonisation of cancer tissue banks, and will use ethnographic methods (including observations and interviews in pathology laboratories, hospital wards, and elsewhere) to identify and characterise organisational and professional barriers to harmonization of cancer tissue banks. Though it clearly has practical application, the research will aim to take a theoretically sophisticated approach, drawing on theory from the sociology of science as well wider influences.