Anthony Gilbert: My research career so far and advice for others
I am a research physiotherapist at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH) which is a National Specialist Centre for patients with neuromusculoskeletal conditions. I have always had an interest in research. I completed the HEE/NIHR funded MRes in 2015 at the University of Southampton. My supervisor was Professor Carl May.
My research is inspired from working at the RNOH where patients often travel large distances for their rehabilitation. I investigated the acceptability of SKYPE consultations and I published my literature review (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physio.2017.11.217) and dissertation (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1758573218796815). The feeling of success, however, can be bittersweet as the journey was challenging and I experienced multiple grant and paper rejections along the way.
Whilst away on the MRes the RNOH Therapies Director (Rachel Dalton), Research Manager (Iva Hauptmannova) and Research Lead (Anju Jaggi) were working hard to develop an AHP research strategy including the development of a Therapies Research Coordinator role. The timing could not have been better as on completion of my MRes I was appointed to the role giving me the opportunity to consolidate my research skills - applying them across a range of research projects mentoring and facilitating others. In addition, it gave me time to apply for the NIHR Doctoral Fellowship.
Carl May agreed to continue to supervise me and we discussed my plans for my PhD. We assembled a team which included Dr Jeremy Jones and Professor Maria Stokes, at the University of Southampton, and I applied for the NIHR DRF. This took about 8 months to write with the support of my supervisors, the RNOH Research and Innovation Centre Team and the Research Design Service. I was devastated when I wasn’t shortlisted for interview for the DRF. Thankfully I have some great people around me and my team were very supportive of my re-application for the CDRF. The six-week turnaround time was barely enough for my resubmission for CDRF but armed with the constructive feedback from the previous panel I was happy with my application. I was thrilled when I was shortlisted for the interview.
I had three mock interviews: one with the RDS, one at my work with Anju Jaggi and Suzanne Bench and the final interview in Keele with Chris Littlewood and Siobhan Stynes. I spent time with my supervisors talking through the research and my clinical team were very supportive and generous with the amount of time I was allowed to prepare. I devoted a lot of time to this preparation and as a result, I was very happy with my performance at interview. Getting that award email was brilliant. I am very glad I went back for another shot.
I am now six months into the fellowship and making good progress with the research. I have nearly finished writing up my systematic review and planning for phases 2 & 3. I’m already finding myself thinking forwards to my future plans beyond the CDRF. I have mentors in place with whom I discuss ‘future career’. The ICA pathway is there to support future clinical academic leaders and I intend to apply for the Clinical Lectureship in the future.
I have been approached by a few people and asked for advice about their fellowship applications. It’s actually quite tough to advise as each award is individual to that person… but here are some things that I feel worked for me, set out as the three P’s:
- ‘The Person’
Despite my rejections, there was a clear ‘P’ within me and that was perseverance! Pursuing my MRes after I had been rejected for a Pump Priming Grant got me to two publications. My clinical academic role demonstrated my dedication to being a clinical academic. This role also gave me relevant examples to draw from in interview which enabled me to articulate my desire to continue along the NIHR pathway.
- ‘The Project’
I think it helped that my PhD project was an extension of my MRes work. It was also useful that I could articulate the vision of how the project might lend itself to future post-doctoral research beyond the fellowship. I considered different research designs and decided a mixed methods approach. It fits the HEE/NIHR Remit and will impact on the clinical care immediately.
- ‘The Place’
The University of Southampton is one of the best places in the country to do a PhD and I have a brilliant supervisory team who are well placed to support me to deliver my research. The RNOH is a well-known hospital with a commitment to clinical research - this is evidenced through the terrific support and infrastructure in place. I have a great clinical team around me to support my clinical development over the next three years. The RNOH’s commitment to developing clinical academic career pathways made it the perfect host institution for my fellowship.
The 4th P would be the People around me. I am very fortunate to have a supportive family, friends, mentors and work colleagues who have always been there for me when I have needed them. Lots of lunch-break walks, coffee chats, protected time at work and permission to work late into the evenings and through weekends at home have been much appreciated over the last 4 years… it’s not always been easy and I couldn’t have done it without the incredible support I have around me. It’s been tough at times, but it has been worth it!
If you are interested in finding out more about the project, I will be posting information on the study website https://www.theconnectproject.info/ and you can find me on twitter @awgilbert11.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.