Home again

So, the first RDS National Grant Writing Retreat is over and the delegates and Research Design Service (RDS) staff have returned home. Everyone is once again juggling their research with their day jobs.

The week was a full on affair, with every team working incredibly hard. There were a huge array of topics covered: in my own cluster of teams we had projects on mental health, diabetes, and dementia, with outcomes ranging from disease prevention and symptom reduction right through to optimising health service organisation and the delivery of care. As I found from my time at a similar Retreat in Wales, the work of advising these teams was both challenging and satisfying. Four projects, all at different stages of development and aimed at different funding programmes, is quite a lot to keep in your head at once. Often, a discussion with one team would finish only for a different one with another team to start. Yet it was this constant progression of ideas and plans that made the week so productive. With nothing else to distract them from their research plans, teams could take onboard one set of advice, think and act on it immediately, and then be ready to discuss the next set of ideas a couple of hours later.

Interestingly, we found that it was this discussion, dissection and then re-assembly of research plans and ideas that took up most of the week. Research planning is iterative by nature: you end up designing and re-designing all aspects of your project – from the argument you make for it’s priority to the methods you’ll be using to the analyses you’ll be carrying out – many times over before you have a project ready to submit for funding. For many of the teams, it was on this part of the process that the Retreat focused. Drafting an NIHR funding application which adequately addresses the myriad of issues required to obtain funding is something of an art form. One of the unique selling points of the Research Design Service, which I’ve written about at greater length here, is our collective experience of literally hundreds of NIHR applications. This experience was something we could use to help teams plan their research and so make a start on their applications in a strong position.

I have no doubt that the progress teams made over the course of the week will be invaluable to them. As I’ve said in previous posts, the week itself represents many months of advising work in the ‘real world’. The challenge now will be for teams to keep up the momentum gained during the Retreat. I look forward to hearing what happens to each team’s research applications. Hopefully most, if not all, will be submitted to one of the NIHR funding programmes. And, of these, some will be successful.

Regardless of the final outcome of any one particular project, the lessons learned and experiences gained by the researchers on the Retreat are something which will help them plan every project of their research careers. And, ultimately, this is what will be of most use – knowledge gained, shared and used by researchers of the future.

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