My reflections from the 14th NIHR Doctoral Research Training Camp – Applying for Further Funding 26-28th June 2023

Imogen Skene

I was pleased to be nominated by the NIHR Emergency Care Incubator to attend this year’s NIHR Doctoral Research Training Camp in Crewe. The focus was on how to successfully apply for further research funding. The attendees were PhD students from across the country. 

We began with a number of talks by great speakers covering topics such as ‘how to sell yourself and your project’ and ‘planning for patient and public involvement’. This day was also streamed live so other colleagues could join virtually. Dr Kyla Thomas delivered an inspirational talk about her research journey with some great tips about collaboration, embracing opportunities and mentorship. 

Previous attendees were also present and gave us some great tips from their experience and brought some relaxation to the event. They planned a speed networking event for the first evening to help break the ice, which was appreciated. 

At the end of the afternoon, we moved into teams and found out about the task ahead. We were to prepare and submit a funding application for the fictitious ‘NIHR Making People Healthier’ research programme. We were allocated to multidisciplinary teams and were supported by a public contributor and an experienced NIHR researcher. We then had 24 hours to prepare and submit our funding application.

On day 2 we spent some time (possibly too much!) trying to narrow down our research question, then shared our tasks with the team members to progress the different elements of the proposal. Throughout the day, we consulted with research design services (qualitative and quantitative experts), patient and public involvement and engagement (expert advisors), the director of the programme and the head of finance. 

The course directors and previous attendees dropped in on the groups throughout the day, making it feel a little like ‘Bake off’ challenge! 

PPIE was embedded throughout the event with great talks from public contributors on day 1 and then public contributors’ involvement within the grant writing teams. Our team were able to draw on the expertise of our public contributor and developed an application with PPIE input embedded throughout. 

At times, I didn’t think it would be possible to pull together a cohesive application in this timeframe. However, we were able to submit our proposal just in time at 5pm, complete with signature sign offs from the heads of departments. I was astounded by what could be achieved in a day!

On the final day of the camp, the teams all presented the proposals to the funding panel and the proposals were then cross examined. Presenting the proposal was challenging but it was also a valuable experience. We learnt a lot from our own presentations, as well as from watching the other teams. 

Overall, the experience was great! It was a fantastic opportunity to work with a team to develop a funding application, meet other researchers, hear about their topics and share experiences. As I am coming to the end of my PhD and am applying for further research funding, the camp was perfectly timed. It has certainly increased my confidence, knowledge, and skills in applying for further funding. 

Key messages that I took away:

  • Collaboration and teamwork are key. 
  • Utilise experts available to you – the public contributors, research design services, etc. 
  • Get writing early – it’s much easier to edit once the initial ideas are on paper.