Brian Nicholson and Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, University of Oxford
The last week of September was a busy one indeed for all involved with the NIHR School for Primary Care Research! On Thursday, 25th September the annual trainee event was held at St Anne’s College, Oxford, and the following day, the annual School showcase was held across the road in the impressive new Maths Institute. We were lucky enough to be presenting and chairing sessions across both days.
The trainee event is an opportunity for people awarded School training awards to get together. This includes PhD students, post docs, and academic clinical fellows from as far south as Southampton and as far north as Manchester. It was great to see familiar faces from the years before, as well as to meet new trainees and the SPCR faculty. One of the key elements of the trainee event is the opportunity for each trainee to gain experience of presenting and defending their research in one of the group poster sessions. As presenters we benefited from the feedback of more senior members of the School, as well as from peers in the same boat as us. Presentations from trainees at different stages of their studentships or fellowships also provided a unique opportunity to see the types of research being conducted at each stage, strategies used to overcome difficulties along the way, and plans for next steps.
“One of the key elements of the trainee event is the opportunity for each trainee to gain experience of presenting and defending their research in one of the group poster sessions.”
As well as the poster sessions, the trainee day also included an overview of the impressive outputs of the School’s trainees in the past year (inspiring for those in the audience!) and two talks, the topics for which were chosen from suggestions after last year’s training day. Helen Harris-Joseph from the NIHR Trainee’s Coordinating Centre and James Sheppard, an MRC funded fellow from Oxford’s Nuffield Department for Primary Care Health Sciences, presented on funding opportunities. Helen provided a comprehensive overview of those available from the NIHR at various career stages. James gave an entertaining account of his experience applying for both MRC and NIHR post-doctoral fellowships. Through sharing with us the contrasting feedback received from the two funders (despite near identical submissions), James demonstrated the benefit of applying to multiple funders, emphasising the importance of not putting all of one’s eggs in one basket! The talk also included useful tips and hints, such as the importance of preparing your application (very) early, of waiting for the right time to apply (by building up your CV appropriately), and taking advantage of any opportunities for a good grilling at mock interview within your department. In the afternoon, Rhian Hughes (Keele University), Jane Vennik (University of Southampton), and Kieran Ayling (University of Nottingham) presented on the opportunities and challenges of recruitment in primary care. Take home message – it’s not easy but it’s rewarding, communication is key, it’s important to allocate a lot of time, and have a plan B, and C, and D! The trainee day wrapped up with a lovely college dinner (including handmade chocolates), and prior to all of the trainees getting cosily tucked up in their college accommodation ready for the following days showcase, there was just enough time for trainees and faculty members alike to practise their networking sheltered by the Royal Oak of St Giles.
Following the trainee event, the showcase highlighted again the exciting work going on within the School. The audience were lucky enough to have a keynote presentation from Professor Trish Greenhalgh and, led by the head of the School, Professor Richard Hobbs, a panel discussion between leaders of academic primary care. These sessions explored the tricky issue of research impact, including but not limited to defining it, measuring it, maximising it, and questioning it. Both sessions highlighted many of the tensions surrounding impact, focussing on how to create meaningful impact while maintaining a degree of pragmatism, and cautioning the necessity to reserve enough time for research into areas that drive you rather than those driven by the big funders. The day included parallel presentations from a healthy mix of junior and senior members, again highlighting the range of work being conducted under the auspices of the SPCR, both in terms of subject area and methodologies employed, and emphasised the importance of asking critical, meaningful research questions as tantamount.
What was striking across the two days was that every presentation and poster provided a clear message that our ultimate aim as primary care researchers is to conduct research to improve patient care, an impact we all strive for.