Judit Varkonyi-Sepp is Manager for the Behavioural Science Theme at NIHR Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and a Health Psychologist, Research Psychologist and Coaching Psychologist.
She combines her work as a research manager with her psychology research and practice.
Parallel career paths
After completing her psychology degree, she worked in the pharmaceutical industry, working her way up to become a manager and director in central and eastern Europe.
After she moved to the UK she continued to work in this industry, until she joined University Hospital Southampton (UHS) as Senior Clinical Research Project Manager for the NIHR Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit (BRU). Since then she has moved into her current role in the BRC.
In parallel she has worked as a psychologist, firstly in an acute psychiatric unit, then in her own private practice as a counselling psychologist, and later as a coaching psychologist.
“I was very much supported by the NIHR Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit when I decided to go back and study again,” she says. “In 2013 I undertook a master’s in health psychology, and I qualified as a health psychologist in 2020.”
She then went on to do a doctoral level qualification, allowing her to concentrate on her research. She is now psychology lead for the SafeFit trial, Chief Investigator on a study into the psychological and emotional impact of living with asthma, and is looking at staff resilience during the pandemic.
Her long-term goal is to expand her work to give all healthcare professionals in Southampton the skill set required to understand what drives people’s health behaviours and how to support people to take control of their health and wellbeing. This would, for example, help them to understand why patients might decide not to follow their care plan and work with them in partnership to find a solution.
Challenging but enjoyable
Judit’s advice to anyone thinking of pursuing a career in research is to try to be innovative and think outside the box, for example by directly approaching industry for funding.
“It was really hard in a way, really challenging, but enjoyingly challenging to step down from a senior management position to be an early career researcher, but I never felt intimidated or belittled – I always felt supported, so it’s a really enjoyable, exhilarating experience,” she says.
“I would recommend it to everyone. Wherever you are in your life and your career, if you are passionate about research, go for it. I think in Southampton there is a real commitment and real drive to help the likes of us who are just coming on that path, and it’s a fantastic place to be.”