Dr Natasha Tyler, an NIHR SPCR Postdoctoral Fellow, successfully applied for an NIHR-funded award called SPARC. This funded Natasha to work with another organisation to learn about the day-today management of trial research projects.
Here Natasha shares why she applied for the award, and what she hoped to achieve.
What is a SPARC Award?
SPARC is a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Short Placement Award for Research Collaboration (SPARC) Award. The NIHR SPARC scheme awards funding to trainees who are supported by the NIHR so they can experience different parts of the NIHR to network, train in a new skill, or work with other researchers. The scheme is designed to increase a trainee’s experience and improve their CV.
By the end of the award, the trainee should have worked with new people, as well as had a chance to write up new publications and to develop new skills.
Why did I apply?
I have been working on developing new interventions in the GM PSTRC since 2018, mainly working with patients, carers and healthcare staff to develop ways of improving the quality and safety of mental health care transitions for patients.
But I don’t have any experience of moving an intervention forward from the development stage to the testing stage. I wanted to learn more about how to test interventions in what researchers call feasibility/pilot trials, or randomised controlled trials. I also wanted to work with academics at Keele University.
What does it involve?
The start of my award was delayed because of maternity leave and the Covid-19 crisis; which meant my placement worked differently than I originally planned. I was meant to spend one day a week in Keele to network and learn, but I now attend virtual project team meetings.
Due to the delays, I was also unable to work with the original project supervisor and was instead matched with Dr Zoe Paskins who works on the Improving Uptake of Fracture Prevention Drug Treatments (IFRAP) trial.
This has been really great as Zoe is an excellent mentor. Also, watching her manage a large NIHR-funded project has helped me to see how researchers make decisions during a trial.
I also used the SPARC funding to attend a ‘Running randomised controlled trials’ 5-day course at Keele University, which really helped me during my placement.
What do I hope to achieve?
I am coming to the end of my placement now, but hopefully I’ll still be involved with the project beyond this. I also hope to work on some analysis with the team and to help with writing a paper.
What difference do I hope it’ll make to my career?
During my SPARC award, I was awarded an NIHR School for Primary Care Research Postdoctoral Fellowship which will enable me to test the intervention I’ve been developing, using similar methods to my SPARC placement project.
The IFRAP project I worked on during my SPARC award is a few months ahead of my own project (and is a much larger study) so hearing all of the discussions that happen within the team is really helping me shape my own work. I’ve also learnt about different methods of research, which has been really useful.
On a professional level, being awarded funding and working with other NIHR organisations will also be a big help in the development of my future career.