We were excited to be nominated by the SPHR to attend this year’s NIHR Doctoral Training Camp in Cheshire. This was focused on how to successfully apply for further research funding.
We began with an afternoon of motivating presentations from experienced researchers and funding panellists. We learnt how to present ourselves, sell our projects and keep patient and public involvement at the heart of our applications. All speakers emphasised the need to prepare for and learn from unsuccessful bids. Many shared their personal experiences of this, which was incredibly useful.
Next, we were introduced to our task: to prepare and submit a research proposal to the (fictional) ‘Making People Healthier’ research funding panel. Working in multidisciplinary teams we had under 24 hours to design, plan, and cost a bid for up to £250,000 of funding.
The following 24 hours were a flurry of activity! After quick introductions we chose a topic and developed our research questions. Each group were mentored by an experienced NIHR researcher and a public contributor, and we also made appointments throughout the day to consult with the panel’s director and experts in methodology, public contribution, and finance.
With effective teamworking and fair amount of last-minute corridor dashes, all groups made the deadline to submit their proposals. That evening we wound down with an enjoyable formal dinner, a welcome chance to network and socialise with other PhD students from across the NIHR and across the country.
On the final day of the camp, we presented and defended our proposals to the funding panel. Their questions were direct and detailed – whilst challenging, this was an invaluable experience, and we learnt a lot first-hand as well as from watching other groups. Amanda’s team were the overall winners for their project which aimed to identify predictors of psychological distress in working age men accessing Universal Credit.
Our experience of the camp was very positive. Intensive, but rewarding! In addition to the knowledge and experience gained, we appreciated the opportunity to network – creating new friendships and enjoying one of the few face-to-face academic events of the past few years.
Here are our take-home messages and learning points:
1) If you can’t explain your project in one sentence, it probably needs more work.
2) Patient and public involvement is essential in developing a grant application and should be included at every stage.
3) Don’t be afraid to speak up – take the opportunity to discuss ideas and challenge each other (respectfully). Trust in your team members. This was the key to a successful bid!
So if you’re considering taking part next year, get involved…it’s hard work but the more you put in, the more you get out.