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Nihr experimental medicine research training camp
The overall winning team at the NIHR Experimental Medicine Doctoral Research Training Camp: Radha Desai (UCLH BRC), Bushra Ahmed (BRU Royal Brompton respiratory), ZinZin Hitke (BRU Leister Diet and Nutrition), Marianne Johnstone (BRU Liverpool Gastrointestinal), Derek Kyte (NIHR School for Primary Care Research) and Alendra Pender (BRC Royal Marsden) photographed with Professor Dave Jones (NIHR Lead for Academic Training, Chair of the Infrastructure Training Forum).

The fourth NIHR Experimental Medicine Research Training Camp took place on 26-28 July 2013.  This year’s focus was 'Developing Your post-doctoral career- building a critical mass of research and researchers'. The trainees also worked in multi-disciplinary groups to prepare a bid for  'call for proposals from a fictitious funding body to develop its research infrastructure'. SPCR fellows Abi Eccles and Derek Kyte had this to say:

“Earlier this year, we were fortunate to win a place on the fourth NIHR research training camp in July, entitled: ‘Developing your Post-doctoral career: Building a Critical Mass of Research and Researchers.’. The flyer for the event was fairly ambiguous so we were a little unsure about what to expect, nonetheless it looked like an interesting opportunity not to be missed.

The camp took place at the stunning Ashridge Business School grounds in Berkhamsted near London; such surroundings really gave us the feeling that we were in for something special.

The first day kicked off with an inspirational talk from Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw (over 470 publications and £80million of funding!) who encouraged us to develop as career researchers and outlined the importance of relating our research to the real experiences of individual patients.

Later that afternoon, the real fun began. We were put into groups, which were purposely mixed to include people from different discipline backgrounds. We were then set the task of writing a mock £5million grant proposal for a new research unit geared towards improving public health. This scenario was not unlike BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’; we had a task with guidelines, we had been thrown into a group of strangers, we had to nominate a group leader, then come up with and agree to our unit’s ‘vision’. We then had to put together and submit the grant proposal application by 5pm the next day and prepare to present in front of a panel the following morning.

For the rest of that evening, group members got to know each other and thrashed out ideas about their proposed research unit. Plans were drawn out for the next day, which was littered with various deadlines for mini presentations, leaflets, lay summaries and opportunities to attend lectures and arrange meetings with different experts for advice and ideas. Many groups stayed up late, propping up the bar to finalise their plans in anticipation of an action-packed 24 hours.

The big day kick-started bright and early for most groups. We all knuckled down, got straight to work and did not stop until the final deadline later that afternoon. Work on the bid was incredibly fast-paced as groups gathered together to develop ideas, design strategies and respond to expert advice. A couple of additional ‘surprise’ deadlines were thrown in throughout the day, which heightened the pressure and tested teams’ coping skills. All in all, it was hard work, but a lot of fun and we were all amazed at how much it was possible to complete in one day (especially with a deadline looming).

Once applications were submitted and presentations were finalised, we could all breathe a sigh of relief knowing that there was nothing more we could do, except enjoy the evening of dinner and drinks. It was a relief to stop thinking about the project; it had only been a day, but with the amount we’d done, it felt like a week. That evening we relaxed, chatted to people we hadn’t met before and listened to Professor Ashley Adamson and Professor Anne Schilder (Winners of the first NIHR Professorships) talk about how they’ve juggled family life alongside very successful careers. These kinds of examples are so useful to early career researchers. It is reassuring to see others who have successfully managed to succeed in their chosen field, without compromising their work/life balance.

The imposing panel presentation was held on the final morning. All groups took it in turns to present their proposal in front of 5 experienced panel members, who had reviewed each group’s application beforehand. After the presentation, each group was subjected to a grilling from the panel (which was not for the faint-hearted!). Being in this situation was a great opportunity to practice skills in presenting and responding to criticism and questions on the spot. In the end we were both lucky enough to experience success at the camp; Abi’s group won the award for ‘Best Patient and Public Engagement and Involvement Strategy’ and Derek’s group did outstandingly well, as they won ‘First Prize for Overall Proposal’, meaning they were given the £5million ‘funding award’.

All in all, a great few days, in a beautiful setting. It was hard work, intense and a lot of fun. It gave us early career researchers some insight to what’s to come in a future of grant proposals and working in teams across disciplines.”