My Role in Research: Alan Uren – Specialist Clinical Researcher

Alan Uren –  Specialist Clinical Researcher

Dr Alan Uren is a Specialist Clinical Researcher who has worked at the Bristol Urological Institute for more than 10 years. He had a varied career before taking a research role, including working as a professional musician.


I’ve had a bit of a roundabout route into research

I did a Biology degree, then went to music college for two years and worked as a professional musician for two years with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. After that I did a Master’s degree in Public Health, and later completed a PhD in questionnaire development during my role at the Bristol Urological Institute.

I knew I was interested in science, but through the Master’s degree I learnt that I was interested in health research and making a difference to patients. 

Experience in qualitative research and interviewing patients helped me secure my role at NBT straight after my Master’s. 

I joined as a Research Assistant and following my PhD, my role has developed and changed significantly. Last year I was awarded my first major research funding to lead a team to deliver research with national level influence.

My work includes talking to patients during qualitative interviews

This can often be in quite an emotive and emotional context. For example, for one study I talked through the whole bladder cancer journey with men and their partners. But I think in some cases it can also be quite therapeutic and useful for the patients too. There is also a lot of desk-based research, management, and collaborative meetings, as you would expect. One of my responsibilities is managing the International Consultation in Incontinence Questionnaires (ICIQ).

I’m currently developing a new questionnaire for pregnant and postnatal women

It asks about symptoms related to pelvic health and pelvic floor dysfunction. The PPHSAT study aims to raise awareness and identification of pelvic health symptoms, and to improve referrals to specialist services for treatment when needed.

There’s much more to creating a questionnaire than you might imagine!

A lot of my work has been around validating patient questionnaires to ensure we have confidence in each set of responses and their measurements. We consult with patients for initial ideas and review questions for sense, running pilots with patients using the questionnaire, and statistical tests to check if the questions work well together.

For context, there are 20 questionnaires for different types of urinary tract dysfunction which are used in research and clinical practice worldwide. These are all available in many different languages.

I never thought I would end up in urology 

It was completely by chance! It’s not a complete coincidence though that I ended up in science as my father is a professor of Physics, so I know roughly what’s involved. I think my brain works in the right way for research, when perhaps playing the violin did not stimulate that part of my brain enough.

I really enjoy that research always brings new challenges

You are constantly learning. There is always something that pushes you a bit further out of your comfort zone.

I’d advise someone thinking about a healthcare research career to do a science degree

Something medical or social science-related is especially helpful. You will need to be tenacious and want to work hard. Having confidence in your writing abilities is important, as is being scrupulously accurate in the way you report things. But the most important thing is to have a belief in science and how it works, as the best way of making progress.

Further information

My Role in Research: Alan Uren – Specialist Clinical Researcher