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25 Mar 2022

‘From imposters to possibility' – reflections on our recent Grant Development and Writing Workshop


We recently co-hosted a three-day, face-to-face Grant Development and Writing Workshop, in Durham. The event was jointly delivered with the NIHR Research Design Service (RDS) and Clinical Research Network (CRN) for our region.

It offered an opportunity for early career researchers to learn about the grant writing process, whilst having dedicated time to work on their application and have expert advice to hand – and we’ve received so much positive feedback from the event, which will help us to plan any future sessions.

One of the delegates Dr Rachel Collum, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland, has written about her experience and how it has left her and her colleagues feeling inspired to move forward with their research idea.  

From imposters to possibility – what a difference three days make

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the NIHR RDS NENC/CRN NENC/ARC NENC three-day grant writing and development workshop. A bit of a mouthful, and it was definitely a mind-full as well, in a really good way (and not just because I got to meet actual live, 3D people for the first time in 2 years, and there were cakes and delicious lunches!)!

The purpose of the workshop was to provide an overview of the whole NIHR grant process, from how to write a convincing application, to examples of good practice, to the importance of PPI and an outline of the available funding streams. There was also lots of time built in for us to work on our own grant proposals, developing ideas whilst being supported by experts in methods and fields. Pretty much everything someone new to the grant application process could need! The opportunities for networking were also brilliant, and we were delighted to find so many people there from the neonatal sector- a whole new research group might be emerging because of that!

A colleague and I attended together, and I think we both arrived feeling pretty much like imposters, especially when we heard some of the other proposals about huge medical RCTs of amazing and exciting new technologies and interventions, and there we were with our idea to interview a handful of adults about their experiences of having been born pre-term. On that first morning, we felt like we had come to the wrong place! That was until the coffee break, when several other delegates and RDS team members came to talk to us about how important qualitative research is, and how they loved the co-production element of our ideas. Just having that validation completely changed our confidence in ourselves and set the scene for the next two days.

Over the course of the workshop, we went from feeling out of our depth with a brain-dump of passionate but unclarified ideas to having a list of concrete actions and to-dos to make things happen. We came away not only with a list of excellent resources and avenues to explore, but with a new sense of confidence in our abilities and ideas. And most of that is down to the wonderful, super friendly RDS team and the diversity of inspirational speakers, who really showed that all successful grants start with that tiny seed and a lot of doubt, but the process is about shaking that off and going for it.

You can probably measure and evaluate on paper the effectiveness of this workshop in terms of the actions and outcomes that will arise from it – we certainly have a big to-do list of people to contact (our RDS advisor being top of the list!), teams to reach out to, PPI work to engage in, and actions to complete. But what is perhaps more difficult to capture is the sense of positivity, confidence and, dare I say it, excitement that we’ve come away with. From imposters to possibility.

Thank you NIHR!

Dr Rachel Collum, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland