The first National RDS Grant Writing Retreat

Today is the start of the NIHR Research Design Service’s (RDS) first national Grant Writing Retreat. It’s a week dedicated to helping research teams who are pulling together a research application, with a crack team of RDS methodologists on hand to offer advice and support. The idea is that, over the course of the week, a research idea which was in the early stages of development would be fleshed out, focussed, and take the form of a completed application near-ready for submission to a funding body.

I’ve been fortunate in the past to attend a similar event, held in South East Wales and hosted by their wonderful Research Design and Conduct Service. I wrote about my experiences here and my most striking memory was how far the research teams progressed over the course of just 3 days.

Many researchers, especially those applying to one of the NIHR’s funding programmes are busy clinicians with heavy clinical loads. Once you’ve had a research idea, finding the time and energy to dedicate to crafting a research proposal can be a challenge. Yet this ‘Time to Write’ is essential if you’re to pull together a research proposal that has any chance of being funded. Anyone who has filled in an NIHR research application knows they are lengthy forms, with sections that seem to spring into being, hydra-like, just as you think you’ve completed the final one. Time is, therefore, an essential aspect, not just to come up with the idea for your study and its design, but of ‘Telling your Research Story’ in your application in a way that will convince a funding panel it is research worth supporting.

Yet, time isn’t the only issue. You also need to have ‘the right team’ of people around you. Often I review research applications that address an important area, but which lack clarity because they have been cobbled together by various contributors with no time spent ensuring the over-arching message is coherent. Similarly, I also see applications where it is clear that there has only been a single author and, as such, important aspects are missing because that person, quite understandably, lacks the expertise needed to cover all the issues. This is where the RDS comes in – providing not only our own expertise in a wide range of methodologies, but also in match-making between researchers. And, now, there is also the chance to have a whole week with your research team members dedicated to completing that all-important application, with freely-available RDS adviser input.

From an RDS perspective, I’m excited to be participating as an adviser. As the Retreat is a national initiative, it is being staffed by advisers from across England. We tend to be very regional in our outlook – I’m an adviser for the RDS South East and, under normal circumstances, have little contact with my fellow advisers in other regions. That said, I have managed to visit both RDS London (which you can read about here) and RDS East Midlands (which you can read about here) and have found the opportunity to observe other RDSs in action, and meet with other advisers, has helped me tremendously as well as boosting my enthusiasm for a job I love. I now have another opportunity to meet and work alongside my colleagues in other RDSs.

All in all, at the start of the first RDS National Grant Writing Retreat, I find myself feeling positive. I’ve read all the research plan summaries for the teams attending and am excited by the prospect of helping bring these important projects to their full potential.

Stay tuned for more thoughts as the week progresses. And, if you’re at the Retreat in any capacity, do please comment and tweet about your experiences.

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