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NIHR Infrastructure Short Placement Award for Research Collaboration (SPARC)

The NIHR SPARC scheme allows trainees supported by NIHR Infrastructure to spend time in other parts of the NIHR to network, train in a specific technique or collaborate with other researchers/specialists. The scheme is designed to optimise and enhance the trainees’ experience as well as their CVs. Expected outcomes include collaborations, publications, presentations, posters, as well as the development of new skills.

Application process

Applications must be directed to Georgina Fletcher and NOT to the NIHR. The call for applications for Round 6 has closed.


The NIHR SPARC is open to all NIHR Academy Members who:

  • are early career researchers (PhD or early career post-doc) undertaking a formal training/career development award, which is competitive, includes a training plan and has a defined end point (this may be an application for further funding);
  • are directly funded by an NIHR award that is a part of the NIHR Infrastructure with a remit to build capacity - Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs), Applied Research Collaborations (ARCs), and Patient Safety Translational Research Centres (PSTRCs) - or are part of one of the three NIHR Schools;
  • receive at least 25% funding from the NIHR Infrastructure or NIHR School for their salary/stipend/fees over the lifetime of the award;
  • do not already hold an NIHR Academy Fellowship or NIHR Clinical Lectureship, and;
  • can complete the award between April 2020 and February 2021.


The NIHR SPARC allows eligible individuals within one part of the NIHR Infrastructure or NIHR School to spend a short period of time training in another part of the NIHR. The period of experience in another part of the NIHR is flexible if the applicant can demonstrate the impact and benefit to their training. The training placement period can be broken up to allow flexibility but must be completed and the financial report must be submitted by February the 14th 2021. Awardees will remain registered at their ‘home’ institution and the ‘host’ institution will provide supervision and training in collaboration with the ‘home’ supervision team.

The following types of activities could be supported:

  • moving to other parts of the NIHR with similar specialisms to their home institution;
  • seeking placements in a specific NIHR institution that offers training experiences not available at their home institution (including cross-discipline training, such as regulatory aspects, trials etc.)

The placements, however, are not limited to these types of activities. Applications to spend time in a part of the wider NIHR or NIHR Infrastructure or School with a different remit than an applicant’s home institution (e.g. BRC to an ARC or a School) are also encouraged.


Expanded scheme

In August 2020, the NIHR expanded the scheme to include:

Public Health and Social Care - the NIHR has expanded the SPARC scheme to offer applicants the opportunity to plan and undertake placements in a Local Authority setting (and social care equivalent). Placements will provide opportunities for NIHR Academy members to gain first-hand experience of being actively embedded and connected within practice/policy, helping NIHR Academy members to start to shape mutually beneficial collaborations/networks with the ability and skills to co-produce research that is more meaningful and relevant in order to better inform practice and policy.

Sector - in addition, one of the aims of the NIHR is to increase the number of researchers equipped with the skills to work at the interfaces between academia, the NHS, and wider health, public health and social care, and industry.

The NIHR will be encouraging potential applicants to consider planning and undertaking placements in other parts of the NIHR that have developed partnerships and collaborations with industry partners. By embedding themselves within already established NIHR-Industry partnerships, the aim would be to develop skills and gain experience of what is needed to have a successful working relationship with industry (including the life-sciences, med-tech, SMEs and food industry).

Applicants can begin by speaking to eligible NIHR Academy Members about potential placements and consider where they could go and what they could do. The SPARC guidance notes and case studies can be found on the NIHR SPARC webpage.


Applicants must clearly demonstrate how this opportunity would enhance their studies and their CV.

Applicants may find helpful the following documents:

  1. SPARC – Where Can I Go? This details the types of activities taking place within the NIHR Infrastructure and NIHR Schools (nb this is not an exhaustive list, and does not detail wider NIHR opportunities). All applicants must liaise with their named Training Lead prior to developing an application.
  2. SPARC – Advice from Previous Awardees. This document includes advice that may be helpful in planning a placement.
  3. SPARC – Case Studies. The home and host institutions, placements, outputs and impacts of some previous awards are described.
  • Applicants are responsible for liaising with their Home Institution Training Lead (see NIHR Infrastructure and School Training Leads) and potential placement institution and agreeing the scope of the placement prior to submitting an application.
  • The application form is available from the NIHR SPARC webpage at
  • To submit the application, the NIHR Training Lead representing the NIHR Home Institution (as listed here: ) must email a completed application form and the applicant's CV to
  • The applicant’s CV should detail their qualifications, awards, publications and experience and both documents should be suitably protected. 
  • Any changes to the formatting of text within the application form may impact the rest of the form and what is visible to the SPARC Selection Committee when reviewing the application. Such issues usually resolve when the form is saved and re-opened, but the applicant needs to ensure that all required text is visible in an electronic and printed copy of this application form prior to submission.
  • Incomplete, faxed, posted or late applications will not be accepted under any circumstances.
  • The NIHR Academy is responsible for the selection process and subsequent management of the award.
  • Applications will be reviewed by an expert Selection Committee, and scored during a Selection Committee meeting in February 2020.
  • The Selection Committee, via the NIHR Academy, will make recommendations for funding to the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).
  • The NIHR Academy expect to be able to notify applicants of the outcome of their application during March 2020.