Professor Dave Jones, Dean for NIHR Trainees

NIHR career development: distinctive and still evolving


Professor Dave Jones, Dean for NIHR Trainees

Date: 29 August 2017

NIHR is many things to many people but one of its key roles is to support the career development of the next generation of health researchers. As the NIHR Dean I have the opportunity to help people “dream the dream” on a daily basis and it is a real privilege to do so. As someone who had their research career supported by fellowships (from the Medical Research Council (MRC), long before the days of NIHR) I know completely how valuable recognition and support of this type can be. There is nothing in my working life which gives quite as much pleasure as seeing someone who I have supervised or mentored being really successful - although seeing students I taught becoming professors does remind me how old I am!

In NIHR training there is an opportunity for every stage of peoples’ careers. We support people through fellowships to do a PhD or post-doctoral work. We also support lots of people through the Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs) and Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs), all of whom are part of the NIHR family. We also, uniquely, run (in partnership with our colleagues in Health Education England) pathway schemes for all clinicians (nurses, physios, doctors, OTs, dentists etc) which allow people to balance their research and clinical training.

There are two aspects of our training programmes which are distinctive and really important to us. The first is that we support all professions in all parts of England. Research informs and gives rise to better healthcare. The evidence to support this gets stronger all the time. Furthermore, the delivery of healthcare is now truly multi-professional with services increasingly being developed and led by people of all professional backgrounds. This revolution means that we need to support the development of clinical research leaders from all backgrounds. The second is that we don’t just fund people to take a PhD or undertake research, we support people to be successful. We fund and offer mentorship and leadership training as well as specific skills training. Success comes from a deep understanding of why you are doing research, how your research can effect change and how you can become a leader in your field not just getting lots of a papers in good journals!

Our world, however is a rapidly changing one and we need to evolve to reflect that. For example, when NIHR launched its first training programmes the iPhone had yet to appear and the world had never heard of an app…

We have therefore recently completed a review of training in the NIHR to set ourselves up for the next 10 years. This has been a really positive exercise which has reinforced our appreciation of what works and identified areas where we need to evolve.

The recommendations from the review were presented to the NIHR Strategy Board in July and we were given the green light to go ahead and start implementing all the recommendations. This will be shared very soon so keep an eye on the NIHR website and @NIHR_trainees for more details. We are very proud of what NIHR has done to date to support career development and the responses we received through our consultation on the future endorsed this.  We are going to simplify our funding schemes (even we would admit that it has got a little complex) so that they are based around the stage of your career (PhD, post-doc etc). We are also looking at all our schemes to see how we can make them more responsive to the rhythm of people’s lives and careers. Many of you will have heard me say that “life is a marathon not a sprint”; as someone with two young children I fully understand the challenges around balancing the conflicting pressures. Genuine flexibility will, we hope, become the order of the day.

There is more news to come but we feel that the future is very positive and we plan to make NIHR’s career development offer even more special.


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.
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    Dave Jones writes about how the NIHR is developing the research leaders of the future. His blog is the latest in our #WeAreNIHR series.
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    Professor Dave Jones, Dean for NIHR Trainees

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