Time to Write?

Finding time to focus on research can be challenging. Research is, for many of the clinicians with whom I work, something that is done in their ‘free’ time. They recognise the value of research and believe passionately about delivering evidence-based care to their patients, yet it is not something they can necessarily dedicate time to during their working week. They have heavy clinical responsibilities and having the time to think about their research plans can be difficult; more difficult still is finding the time to actually sit down and tackle one of the NIHR research programme’s detailed application forms.

And, yet, these are the very people the NIHR is trying to reach. As I talked about here, the NIHR is a funder of research for, and from, the NHS. It is these clinical researchers – those who know intimately the problems faced in clinical practice – who we want to encourage to put forward questions to address through research to find evidence-based solutions that they can use in their practice to the benefit of their patients.

There are a number of ways to tackle the problem of time. I believe that working with an RDS adviser, like myself, can help make the process of designing a research study and submitting a funding application easier. As I’ve said before, there are many advantages to making use of the services the NIHR Research Design Service offer to health and social care researchers free of charge. I won’t go into detail of these here, but our collective experience with funding applications and funders, our individual expertise as researchers, and our ability to offer peer and lay review are just a few ways we can support busy clinicians who wish to pursue research.

Another way of making time for research is to actually allocate a block of it specifically for writing. Bits and pieces, written and read here and there in evenings and weekends can make for a difficult to follow funding application. It is surprisingly easy to spot when applications have been written by different people and no one has had the time to go though the entire document and pull it all together. But, often, there are few alternatives.

Last March, I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak and advise at a Research Retreat run by the Research Design and Conduct Service (the Welsh equivalent of the RDS). I wrote about my experience of the event specifically, and about the usefulness of Research Retreats in general, on my return. I found the event positive, productive and rewarding. It was a real pleasure to have an extended amount of time to dedicate to the development of specific research proposals and to observe just how far the research teams had progressed in the development of these over the course of just 3 days. With dedicated time to write, and experienced advisers to offer support, real progress was evident.

RDS SW have run a similar type of Retreat annually since 2009. Like my experience in Wales, they have received very positive feedback. Participants, in particular, have welcomed the dedicated time to concentrate solely on their research with RDS staff available throughout to offer expert support and guidance. It is always hard to come up with reliable measures of success when it comes to funding applications (as I’ve commented on here). It is also difficult to know for sure what leads to success. That said, RDS SW are aware of 20 applications, worked on during their Retreat, which were successfully submitted to funders. Of these, 9 were funded. This, if you’re at all familiar with the typical success rates of the various NIHR funding programmes (RfPB, for example, has a success rate around 20%), is pretty impressive.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been involved in a group made up of RDS staff from across the country with the aim of offering something similar to health and social care researchers in England. This is the first time such an event has been offered nationally, but it is our hope that it will give busy clinicians the time, space and support to act on their research aspirations and produce an almost submission-ready funding application.

For this first venture, teams of 2 or 3 researchers can apply to take part in a 5-day RDS Residential Grant Writing Retreat to be held from 13th – 17th June 2016 in Bath. More details of the entry requirements, application and selection process, cost, and venue are available here.

If you think this is something that might interest you and your fellow researchers, do have a look. I can only speak from my own experiences of a similar type of event, but I do believe there is much to be gained by participating. At the very least, you are guaranteed dedicated time to write, with the help and guidance of experienced RDS advisers. And working in a supportive environment with other committed researchers and RDS advisers is likely to bring about even more.