On the 6th, 7th and 8th of July 2016 the NIHR hosted their Seventh NIHR Infrastructure Doctoral Training Camp at the Ashridge Business School, Hertfordshire.

The camp was attended by two of CLAHRC NWL’s team members, Sophie Spitters, PhD student in the Early Years theme and David Sunkersing, PhD student in the Frailty theme.


Sophie is currently studying the implementation of care pathways for children with allergies, looking at Itchy Sneezy Wheezy projects as case studies. Read below to hear more about Sophie’s experience of the training camp.

openspeechThe NIHR Infrastructure Doctoral Research Training Camp is an annual event focusing on skills needed to develop your career after finishing your PhD. The Camp targets NIHR funded doctoral students doing translational health research from Biomedical Research Units and Centres (BRUs and BRCs), Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs), Patient Safety Translational Research Centres (PSTRCs), the School for Primary Care Research and the School for Social Care Research. What the camp is famous, or rather notorious, for is its big team competition, which this year focused on developing a grant application.


The competition involved a call for proposals from the fictitious ‘Making People Healthier’ (MPH) funding body. We were divided into 10 teams and were given the assignment to develop the best research proposal and accompanying presentation we could in 2 days. When described like that, it doesn’t sound so bad, but in reality we all felt like we were in an episode of the Apprentice! We spent time brainstorming, figuring out everyone’s expertise, background reading…, we got spontaneous deadlines, we went to workshops on Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) and developing research questions…, we had appointments with PPI representatives and experts on finance, quantitative and qualitative research design…, and in the meantime we had to sit down to write and deliver the actual proposal.


On the final day of the Training Camp, all teams presented their study to an expert panel, who marked the teams on quality of the proposal, fundability, presentation quality and answering panel questions. And shockingly, our team, Ashridge Angels, won! We got awarded the ‘funding’ for our feasibility study that focused on increasing physical activity among teenagers in deprived areas by setting up a peer-led activity program in schools. Our study triangulated behavioural measures, questionnaires, interviews and observations to understand implementation and get initial estimates of effect size.


In the Ashridge Angels team, we had a fantastic mixture of disciplines and expertise. We had people working in basic medical science, epidemiology, knowledge mobilisation and service improvement, and we had both quantitative and qualitative researchers as well as healthcare, and mental healthcare professionals. Our divers team, together with the support from our amazing mentor, Catherine Exley, Professor of Qualitative Health Research at Newcastle University, really made the Training Camp experience. The chaotic environment and massive time pressure made me learn so much about teamwork: to coordinate work within the team, to fully trust your team members and to communicate my ideas to people from different backgrounds. And obviously, even though it was a mock funding application, I learned a lot about what funders are looking for and what makes a good proposal.


Throughout the event, we also had the opportunity to hear from inspirational speakers about their own career journeys, and their advice for us for developing a career in health research. Doug Turnbull, Prof of Neurology at Newcastle University, talked about his research on mitochondrial disease and his journey to get a new in vitro fertilisation for patients accepted by the parliament. His talk emphasised that doing meaningful research involves getting out of your office and put effort into sharing and implementing your work into practice. However, the biggest lesson I learned personally, came from Dr. Yeo Giles, telling us that in order to develop and to keep your career in research, ‘you have to make yourself useful!’ This can involve different things. For Giles it meant learning an experimental technique in genetics, but it can also mean writing a lot of great publications or winning a big grant, which was the theme of this year’s training camp competition.


All in all, the NIHR Infrastructure Doctoral Research Training Camp was an amazing and intense experience. And I will try to incorporate the lessons learned from the presentations and from the hands-on ‘mock’ grant application competition into my work, starting now, in my PhD at CLAHRC NWL.074489-simple-red-glossy-icon-alphanumeric-quote-close2