Opportunities and inspiration on the SPARC programme
19 August 2020
As I progress in my research career, I have become increasingly aware of the need to address the knowledge-practice gap – i.e. the fact that much high-quality health research never makes its way into the healthcare settings it is trying to improve. I have also been increasingly aware of my lack of knowledge about addressing this! The SPARC provided a great opportunity to fix this by visiting the Implementation Science Research Group, part of PenARC in Exeter.
I couldn’t recommend the SPARC scheme highly enough to encourage early career researchers to break out of their comfort zone and learn from others. It gives you the unique opportunity to contact anyone in the UK that you have admired or have liked to work with and provides the funding for you to do so."
My launching fellowship explores the factors affecting urgent care for people with dementia, and my long term aim is to work with services to help improve (or avoid) urgent care use in dementia. The Implementation Science group specializes in applying implementation methods to dementia and care homes research and therefore was the perfect place for me to have a research visit.
I began my placement by taking the University of Exeter’s PGCert Module on Implementation Science, run by Professor Rob Anderson. It was great to feel like a research student again and I especially enjoyed hearing from different PenARC researchers about how their research projects are built around different implementation science models, which has enabled their results to have changed practice in local trusts. Another interesting part of this week was the fact that almost all the other students were clinicians who saw research with completely different eyes from university researchers – with a more focussed, rapid, and ‘quality improvement’ approach.
For the rest of my placement, I have been working with Drs Jo Day and Iain Lang. I have been able to learn from their current projects, particularly in involving stakeholders in every aspect of the research process. They have introduced me to local clinicians and care home managers who have helped me both with my current research and with new project ideas. We have also had some incredibly useful discussions about my fellowship and my future plans. I particularly enjoyed being challenged about different research approaches, for example thinking how my primary research expertise, conversation analysis, could link with implementation science methodologies.
I couldn’t recommend the SPARC scheme highly enough to encourage early career researchers to break out of their comfort zone and learn from others. It gives you the unique opportunity to contact anyone in the UK that you have admired or have liked to work with and provides the funding for you to do so.
Why did you apply for the SPARC placement?
I applied for the SPARC award during the final year of my SPCR funded doctoral fellowship “frailty and end of life care in primary care”. The SPARC award enabled me to visit the Cicely Saunders Institute at King’s College London – the world’s first purpose-built institute of palliative care, and a world leader in end of life care research.
What did you do while you were there?
During the placement I worked on a short project, using existing data to explore the relationship between frailty and emergency admissions at the end of life. I was also able to learn about ongoing research at the institute and attend seminars by external speakers.
What was the most important thing you learned?
The project provided an important structure and focus to the visit, but having the opportunity to talk to other researchers at the institute was the most valuable experience for me. I was able to meet established researchers - world leaders in their discipline - and gain valuable insights into priorities in the field. I was also fortunate to be able to discuss ideas with other PhD students and early career researchers (future world leaders!) at the institute.
This isn’t just a great opportunity for networking, but a crucial opportunity to allow your ideas to develop.
- Daniel Stow
The visit also improved my confidence in presenting research findings to a wider audience. During the visit I was able to lead a seminar on findings from my PhD, as well as on the work I had carried out at the institute. This was a fantastic opportunity to gain insights and feedback from the experts, much of which I have incorporated into subsequent work - including my well received viva presentation.
What has the visit inspired you to do?
As a result of the visit I began to plan some PPI engagement work – this will involve using materials developed at the Cicely Saunders’ Institute, and initiating a collaboration with researchers and clinicians in the North East of England. COVID-19 has put some of these plans on hold, but I’ve been busy in the interim (including writing up the SPARC project for publication). I am looking forward to returning to the PPI work soon, so watch this space!
What advice do you have for future applicants?
Be clear about what you want to gain from the experience and agree to goals in advance. This isn’t just a great opportunity for networking, but a crucial opportunity to allow your ideas to develop.
The SPARC visit cemented my interest in pursuing a career as a researcher focussing on end of life care, and I hope to continue collaborating with the group into the future. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone at the Cicely Saunders Institute for making my visit so enjoyable - especially Professor Irene Higginson for hosting me, and Dr Matthew Maddocks for supervising the visit.