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NIHR Academy Fellowships: Something for everyone!

In this blog, NIHR Academy Member Dr Dipak Kotecha tells us how his NIHR Fellowship allowed him to develop research.

Last month the NIHR launched their new Academy Fellowships. Designed for people at various points of their development, the Fellowship Programme supports individuals to develop their potential to become future leaders in NIHR research.

Why I applied for an NIHR Academy Fellowship

Having done a fair bit of research and becoming a consultant in cardiology, like many others I was faced with the prospect of either going back to full-time NHS work or finding a way to continue working in both research and clinical fields.

NIHR Fellowships offered a great way to follow a combined path and perform patient-oriented clinical research. After an initial rejection in 2014 (but with suggestions to improve for the next submission), I was awarded a Career Development Fellowship, starting in January of 2016 (note that the NIHR CDF is no longer available, replaced by the NIHR Academy Advanced Fellowship scheme).

My experience of the application process

Unless you are a little bit odd, no person really enjoys the daunting process of putting together a body of work to get reviewed by a roomful of strangers! However, coming to the defining point of your application can be a rewarding experience.

If you are planning to apply, I suggest you prepare well for the time required: don’t forget to involve patients and public representatives right at the beginning (a very rewarding process by the way, more below), be honest about what you can really achieve, and think very carefully about how the award can help you (don’t leave the training section to last!).

All grants have a high failure rate, so expect some turbulence on the way, and set yourself up with a good mentorship team.

The NIHR application notes are really helpful – so cut and paste the sections into a word document and build up your application gradually. Get lots of people (including those outside of your field) to critically review your plans and wording.  And if you get to interview remember that you are the expert and the panel are there to help you shine!

What my award has led to

The main benefit of these types of fellowships is time. The NIHR Academy Fellowship has given me time to develop my research fully, develop fruitful collaborations, and forge a career path in my field.

For me, the NIHR CDF gave me a team of staff to run the first ever randomised trial of a common drug (digoxin) in patients with atrial fibrillation and heart failure. The trial is ongoing, but I have already secured funding for further projects from international funders.

The NIHR Fellowship propelled me to a much higher international standing and I am now involved with the largest professional cardiology association in the world, the European Society of Cardiology, where I have helped to draft international guidelines, contribute to the education of cardiologists all around the world, and design new trials.

The extra time from the Fellowship has allowed me to publish articles in my field in some of the top international journals, and I was awarded the British Cardiovascular Society Michael Davies Award this year for my early career contribution to cardiovascular medicine. I also managed to complete a distance-learning Masters in Clinical Trials (part of my training package).

With just a year left, I am looking to begin the process all again, with other applications in process!

Patient and public involvement (PPI)

So I’m a big fan of PPI. I believe it leads to better research and better development of researchers.

Well before my NIHR Fellowship application, I was awarded a bursary from my local Research & Design Service (thanks to West Midlands RDS) to set up a small PPI team, and I would encourage everyone to do the same.

Don’t just think of PPI as a way to strengthen your application; my PPI team designed YouTube videos for patient recruitment, wrote the bulk of patient-facing material, sit on my Steering Committee, and even performed qualitative research through focus groups with participants.

Two of my PPI team were recently awarded Patient Engagement Scholarships from the International Society for Quality of Life Research (congrats Mary and Jacqueline), and are helping me to design future research projects and grant applications to improve patient care.

Why should you apply?

The road can be tough, but if you have a great idea for world-class research that can benefit patients, go for it! We are very fortunate in the UK to have the NIHR, which supports medical researchers right across the spectrum of professional backgrounds.  So from podiatrists to dentists, the NIHR Academy has a fellowship for you!

This blog is shared from the NIHR Website – to find out more about their work and funding opportunities visit: https://www.nihr.ac.uk/blogs/nihr-academy-fellowships-something-for-everyone/9671

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