I came across the NIHR Short Placement Award for Research Collaboration (SPARC) when I was researching ways to get the most out of being an NIHR School for Primary Care Research (SPCR) trainee. As a PhD student at the Primary Care Stratified Medicine Research Group at the University of Nottingham, I was thoroughly enjoying the depth and quality of diverse primary care database research that I was undertaking.
It was here that I was also introduced to the field of genomic medicine, and I intended to explore it in depth with specialists in the field. This led me to apply for the NIHR SPARC with Dr Dennis Wang at the NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre.
I was fortunate to have had a successful application and I began my placement in August 2021. Due to the pandemic, this was a virtual placement where I had regular meetings and discussions. Nonetheless, these meetings were rich expert discussions on the complexities of genomic medicine. Furthermore, I established a working relationship with exceptional researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore on a genomic medicine project. The placement gave me hands-on experience in genomic medicine.
The placement also afforded me the opportunity to attend two courses on genetic epidemiology, providing theoretical insight into the practices I was engaged in. Unfortunately due to COVID travel restrictions and remote working at the time, I missed out on the opportunity to travel to both Sheffield and Singapore for in-person engagements with researchers there.
Not only did the SPARC expose me to new knowledge; it also presented an avenue to showcase one of my PhD-related studies to the Sheffield research team. Here, I received invaluable feedback and contributions from the team which enriched my studies with new insights and perspectives.
Presently, I am working on a promising project with my host supervisor and the A*STAR team in Singapore and we hope to publish our findings in a peer-reviewed journal. All in all, this has been a rewarding experience filled with new learning, networking, and enhanced understanding. It is also an excellent addition to my curriculum vitae.
SPARC is a good opportunity for anyone within the NIHR network to explore. My advice to future applicants would be to always have alternate plans as things might not always go as intended. It is necessary to be flexible and adaptable to make the most of the award. More importantly, remember to get your hat in the ring because- as cliché as it sounds- you can only win it if you’re in it!