We call him he tortoise because he taught us

Cochrane Trainees workshop at the Cochrane symposium 2017

Here, the Cochrane UK Trainees Advisory Group Chair, Rufaro Ndokera, outlines what was learnt about engaging trainees at a recent dedicated workshop, with some useful tips for both trainees and those looking to work with them.

When Therese, business and programme manager at Cochrane UK, asked me if I wanted to get the Cochrane Trainees involved with the symposium at Keble College, Oxford - I said yes! When she asked if we wanted to have a stand with a banner, I jumped at the chance. And when she asked if we would like to apply to run a workshop and submit an abstract for a poster I said we would give it a go.

Following discussion with the Cochrane UK Trainees advisory committee we came up with a plan. A workshop to highlight how trainees could get involved with the work of Cochrane and to highlight how they had been involved to date. What were the limitations and solutions to getting trainees and review groups galvanised. I, alongside my colleagues Rachel and David from the committee and Dr Emma Plugge who leads on Trainee engagement for Cochrane UK  developed the idea further, designed a workshop and came up with a snappy title.In the run up to the workshop I did my best to advertise and get people excited about coming along, but I was very anxious about it all. Would anyone show up? Would people be interested in what we had to say? Could I work the IT screen?The answers? Yes,yes and yes.

Who came along?

Around 12 eager participants arrived at our workshop from a variety of backgrounds and with a number of motives for attending. We had review group authors, managing editors, co-ordinating editors, members of the Cochrane Crowd team and some trainees as well. Some individuals had significant experience, from the Cochrane side, of working with trainees whilst others were there to find out more. The trainees in attendance varied from those already involved in writing a review to those who were starting to learn the basics of EBM.

What did we discuss?

It was fabulous to hear the wide variety of positive experiences different people had with working with trainees.Cochrane Crowd shared their experiences of working with very motivated trainees which helped them to reach their goals and were keen to push on beyond what had been planned. Professor Clive Adams discussed his experience of getting trainees doctors as well as trainee adults (i.e children) involved in projects which had resulted in conference presentations and publications. And Dr Lynda Ware shared her experience of working closely with Cochrane Fellows in the Cochrane UK office.

Of course, we also discussed the barriers to getting trainees involved in the work of Cochrane. The main themes drawn out were expectations, time and access.


By expectation I refer to both the Cochrane side (authors, editors etc) and the trainee side. It seems that these expectations are often not aligned and a lack of understanding of the complexities of a Cochrane review from the trainee perspective may lead to an underestimation of the amount of work and the feasibility of their proposition.


No-one ever feels like they have enough time but with shift work, moving around hospitals, assessments and exams, trainees often have very little. Therefore, coupled with (potentially) inappropriate expectations, projects may end up unfinished or not being completed within the expected timeframe. This can lead to disappointment from both parties.The idea of a ‘delayed benefit’ also came up as a topic for discussion. It takes time to build a working relationship with, and train a trainee to write a Cochrane review and it takes time to see the fruits of your labour.


Some people pointed out that they simply wouldn’t know how to access potentially interested trainees. Those that do have access reported finding that they may not be keen to get involved at a particular career stage which was limiting.

What solutions did we have? After a very active discussion I took away some key points to share for both trainees and those that want to get trainees involved

For trainees

  • Before approaching a Cochrane review group, consider the feasibility of what you are asking to do. Do you have time to write a full review or could you be better help doing some of the other, smaller tasks within the review? Don’t know what these might be? Ask.
  • Consider joining Cochrane Crowd- this will give you experience of elements of review writing, giving you a better idea of what you are getting into. Visit Cochranecrowd.org for more details.
  • Understand that if you haven’t done this before, and maybe even if you have, this is going to be a learning curve. You will need to attend courses and get a lot of support from your author group.
  •  Not everyone is working to the same schedule. If you are planning to do this as part of a time limited further degree, again consider if it is appropriate or feasible for this.
  • Why not consider forming a Cochrane writing group. Find a couple of other like-minded trainees to work with and split the workload. Find other people working on other reviews. This could help with practical issues from how to use bits of software to literally splitting the effort to ensure projects are seen through.
  • Consider your circumstances when getting started. Are you about to do an exam or apply for the next stage of training? Maybe this isn’t the best time to embark on a time consuming Cochrane review? Doing a Masters, fellowship or academic programme? Make enquires but listen to advice on the scale of your project. Not everyone will be able to work to your pre-specified timescale. However, allocated time will be a bonus.
  • Bring your enthusiasm, questions and organisational skills to the table. Know that you have something unique to offer.
  • Keep up to date with what Cochrane Trainees are doing by registering at /get-involved

For Cochrane

  • Remember, trainees are a diverse and dynamic group- one bad experience should not put you off engaging trainees in future.
  • Don’t let geography get in the way- Skype, email and teleconferencing have all made physical distance between authors a problem more easily overcome than ever before.
  • Although trainees may take time to train and need more supervision than others, one day they may be that reliably excellent author you can count on. They may be the next managing editor or EBM pioneer and their enthusiasm, ideas and multitude of questions may develop your ideas far beyond what you expected- for the good.
  • Let’s focus on sharing resources to educate trainees so that getting involved doesn’t always have to mean ‘writing a review’ straight out. Cochrane Crowd are working on this and it looks great!
  • Consider rewards- trainees are keen to get involved but will need something concrete to show for it. Consider what you can offer (CPD points, a certificate, a letter for the portfolio etc), this will likely attract more interest.

To sign out

I think, and hope that our first effort at a Cochrane Trainee workshop was a success. The number of ideas and problems which we hadn’t even considered were huge but this was a great exercise in solution building.Rachel and I learnt a lot from conducting our workshop and we hope everyone that attended took something positive away from it.
But a lot of people weren’t able to be there (we had stiff workshop competition). This doesn’t mean the conversation should end. Please, let’s keep the conversation going and the lines of communication open. How have you worked with trainees? Are you a trainee interested in working with Cochrane? What solutions have you found for any problems you may have encountered? Answers on a postcard (or more feasibly in the comments section below).Also, do follow our activities with #CochraneTrainees on twitter.
I can’t wait to hear from you!

Dr Rufaro Ndokera  @NdokeraR