“A few nasty surprises”: the 10th annual NIHR Trainee Camp
1 August 2019
The 10th Annual NIHR Infrastructure Doctoral Research Training Camp:
Attracting Further Research Funding took place on the 3rd-5th July. Now close to finishing my PhD, I attended this camp to support my plans to apply for further NIHR funding upon completion. The purpose of this training was to learn the skills needed to develop NIHR funding applications. Over the space of two and a half days, we would develop and submit our own application to a fictitious NIHR funding panel, carrying out the necessary tasks and responding to the sorts of challenges that might be expected.
Day 1 began at mid-day and offered an introduction to the camp, with seminars dedicated to framing a research question, research finance, involving patients and the public, and presentation skills. Throughout the afternoon, we were warned of the challenge ahead on day 2: the need for fast and efficient team work to meet various deadlines, quick decision-making, and a few “nasty surprises” that would be thrown at us during the day. Early evening provided some space for us to meet our new team mates and think about our research focus and question. The teams were designed so that everyone could contribute something unique in terms of their topic and specialty. This approach has its advantages, but it also presented us with our first challenge: identifying a research topic to which we could all contribute. There were, inevitably, areas where we overlapped. Ironically, however, we chose a topic in which all but one of us were wholly unversed: air pollution and the health impact. We honed this to a proposed evaluation of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone in London.
Day 2 was dedicated solely to working in our designated teams and developing and submitting an application to the NIHR funding panel. The day got off to a prompt start, and as promised, it was fast, intense and challenging. We each took lead roles in developing different parts of the application, all the while working as a team. We attended appointments with the funding programme director and finance director to check our remit, costs and staffing, as well as PPI advisors and Research Design Service representatives. Those ‘nasty surprises’ included a few unexpected deadlines, advice to change the focus of our research with less than 30 minutes before the first deadline, and news that our budget had been cut in half (necessitating an on-the-spot rethink of our staffing and research costs). Our team rose to the challenge, however, and not only did we produce a good application and meet the deadline, but we had tremendous fun doing it.
Our final challenge was on day 3, where each team had to present and defend our work to the NIHR funding panel. This was an opportunity for us to experience the rigours of an NIHR panel interview. As these interviews took place in front of all attendees, this offered an opportunity to observe others in the same situation, and learn from them, too. The day culminated in prizes for the best application and best team name, with supportive feedback from the trainee leads.
Reflections on the trainee camp
Overall, this was perhaps the most intense but also most enjoyable training I have experienced. Yes, it was challenging, but these challenges forced us to push past any self-doubt we had in order to meet our deadlines and objectives. As was stated multiple times throughout the training, what might normally take 6-9 months of work to develop an NIHR application was condensed into one day. This was such an effective way to learn skills for developing these applications. All of this was accomplished within a collaborative team setting and with the support of fantastic peers.
A key part of the training was the outstanding support from our team mentors and the NIHR training leads. A speech given by Professor Dave Jones of Newcastle University on the evening of day 2 was especially notable for stressing the importance of mentorship and supporting researchers. These comments highlighted the commitment of NIHR to developing early career researchers, and was a lovely way to conclude the day 2 training exercise.
Not only did I leave the trainee camp with key skills for developing NIHR funding applications, but also a sense of achievement that I shared with my team mates and other attendees.
Worth a go?
Without a doubt, I would recommend this training camp to the NIHR SPCR trainees, especially those in their final year who are thinking about applying for further NIHR funding. This is a great opportunity to learn key skills in a supportive environment with other NIHR doctoral research trainees. Expect an intense challenge and a great feeling of accomplishment.