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I never considered something as inconceivable as submitting an entire grant application in just eight hours. Not until I attended the Twelfth NIHR Doctoral Research Training Camp. When I found out the theme for this year’s camp was ‘Applying for Further Funding’, I knew I had to throw my hat in the ring. Funding applications are challenging, and I knew I required guidance and ample coaching in this area. The camp would also present immense opportunities for networking, so I went ahead and applied. Fortunately, I was selected and invited to attend the camp held at the beautiful Woodland Grange, Warwickshire. 

A woman giving a presentation

The first day was perfectly structured to include presentations from fantastic academics and professionals on lessons learnt for postdoctoral funding, framing research questions, getting value and benefit from patient and public involvement, and presentation skills for panel interviews. Also included in the first day was a masterclass on how to make a good research funding application as an early career researcher, which was akin to obtaining a cheat sheet to the process. But unlike other cheat sheets, the masterclass taught us to follow the requirements of any funding call diligently and persistently, and to be resilient and adaptable when things do not pan out. 

A group of students on stage

We were put in groups, assigned an academic mentor, and tasked to come up with a funding application for a fictitious NIHR programme funding call on ‘Making People Healthier Research Programme (MRHrp)’, and it was the real deal. There was a steering committee for the research programme which consisted of a Director and Deputy Director for MRHrp, Finance Director, Research Design Service Qualitative and Quantitative Advisors, and Patient and Public Involvement Expert Advisors and Representatives. Our only limits as a group were the research focus (having to be public health related but not COVID infection)our imaginations, and of course, the 17:00 deadline. Through it all, we received expert advice and guidance from our remarkable mentors and had a plethora of human resource available-albeit by appointment only. Thankfully, each team met this deadline and submitted distinguished funding applications to the committee within eight hours. 

Key points that I took from the camp, with regards to future funding applications, were: 

  • To start early: it is always better to get a good start on any application so there is plenty of time to edit, re-edit, and to get your social capital to review and edit with you. 

  • Involve patient and public representatives throughout the process. 

  • Obtain support from the NIHR Research Design Service (RDS) and make good use of the diverse experts available through RDS. 

  • Try all funding opportunities available to you. Research for Patient Benefits (RfPB) funding is one funding opportunity available to post-doc fellows/early career researchers and even PhD fellows/students. 

  • To remember that things don’t always go as planned and will not go as planned. It is always good to give yourself enough room for any eventualities. 

The training camp was a simultaneously awesome and intense experience and a great opportunity to meet other likeminded researchers from very diverse backgrounds. It was an especially splendid experience as this was- for most attendees- the first in-person camp/conference/workshop/meeting after almost two years of pandemic restrictions. 

The hands-on experience was involving and engaging, and the teamwork was essential and rewarding. I highly recommend the NIHR Infrastructure Doctoral Research Training Camp for all doctoral students and early career researchers as I thoroughly enjoyed myself, while achieving my goal for attending.