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The NIHR SPARC scheme allows trainees supported by NIHR Infrastructure to spend time in other parts of the NIHR to network, train in a specific technique or collaborate with other researchers/specialists. The scheme is designed to optimise and enhance the trainees’ experience as well as their CVs. Expected outcomes include collaborations, publications, presentations, posters, as well as the development of new skills.

Application process

Round 7 has now closed. 


The NIHR SPARC is open to all NIHR Academy Members who:

  • are early career researchers (PhD or early career post-doc) undertaking a formal training/career development award, which is competitive, includes a training plan and has a defined end point (this may be an application for further funding);
  • are directly funded by an NIHR award that is a part of the NIHR Infrastructure with a remit to build capacity - Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs), Applied Research Collaborations (ARCs), and Patient Safety Translational Research Centres (PSTRCs) - or are part of one of the three NIHR Schools;
  • receive at least 25% funding from the NIHR Infrastructure or NIHR School for their salary/stipend/fees over the lifetime of the award;
  • do not already hold an NIHR Academy Fellowship or NIHR Clinical Lectureship, and;
  • can complete the award between April 2020 and February 2021.

What does the SPARC award include?

The NIHR SPARC offers awards of up to £5,000 per individual and allows NIHR Academy Members (PhD or early career post-doctoral researchers) supported by NIHR Infrastructure and NIHR Schools an opportunity to spend time in other parts of the NIHR; to network, train in a specific skill or collaborate with other researchers/specialists. The scheme is designed to optimise and enhance the individuals’ experience as well as their CVs and careers. 

Applicants are encouraged to explore and maximise the wide range of facilities, expertise and opportunities available to them across the NIHR for their personal and professional development, and develop a placement that is bespoke to their individual training needs, background, skills/experiences, as well as their proposed career trajectory.

Further information on the NIHR SPARC scheme; including the guidance notes and application form can be found here. Please also see the NIHR SPARC: Where Can I Go?  guide for details of some of the types of activities taking place within the NIHR, as well as SPARC advice from past awardees and SPARC Case Studies highlighting some of the types of placements previous award holders have undertaken and the impact the placement has had on their personal and professional development.


What’s new for Round 7?

Industry/Commercial Sector - We are encouraging potential applicants to consider planning and undertaking placements in other parts of the NIHR that have developed partnerships and collaborations with industry partners. In embedding themselves within already established NIHR-Industry partnerships the aim would be to develop skills and gain experience of what is needed to have a successful working relationship with industry (including the life-sciences, med-tech, SMEs and food industry).   

We would encourage potential SPARC applicants to contact the NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI). NOCRI provides a sign-posting service; helping researchers and industry identify and connect with the right experts; helping to build and strengthen partnerships with industry/commercial sectors; ensuring collaboration across the research ecosystem is maximised to the benefit of patients/service users, the public and the UK economy.  Further details can be found in the NIHR SPARC Round 7 Guidance Notes

We have also engaged with parts of the wider NIHR; namely the NIHR Medtech and In-vitro Co-operatives (NIHR MICs) and Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMCs); who have established successful partnerships with Industry. Further details regarding those centres/sites potentially able to ‘host’ placements in the Round 7 SPARC competition can be found in the NIHR SPARC: Where Can I Go? Guide.

Possibility of undertaking virtual SPARC placements

In light of the current situation and travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are encouraging prospective applicants to explore the possibility of undertaking some or all of their placement virtually, as well as the possibility of undertaking suitable available training online that meets the applicant’s individual training, personal and professional needs.