Internet Explorer is no longer supported by Microsoft. To browse the NIHR site please use a modern, secure browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

Chairs' Report for Round 4 (2021) of HEE/NIHR ICA Pre-doctoral Clinical Academic Fellowship Scheme

Published

12 January 2022

Version

1.0 - January 2022

Contents

Introduction

The HEE/NIHR ICA Pre-doctoral Clinical Academic Fellowship (PCAF) scheme supports aspirant clinical academics from the health and care professions (excluding doctors and dentists) to become competitive applicants for a peer-reviewed doctoral level research training fellowship.
 
The PCAF scheme offers salaried time to prepare a doctoral Fellowship application and funding for personalised programmes of academic training that equip awardees with the skills and experience to access doctoral level funding.  

PCAF Round 4 Competition (2021) 

The fourth PCAF scheme competition launched on 28th January 2021 and closed on 18th March 2021. The numbers of applications received and awards made are detailed in Annex A at the end of this document along with some analysis of applications and awards made.

Observations and Advice for Prospective Applicants

The Selection Committee agreed that the Round 4 competition was highly competitive and the amount of interest in the scheme was seen as a positive reflection on the increasing support and awareness of non-medical clinical academic careers.
 
The chair and the Deputy Chair of the Selection Committee have made observations of the general strengths and weaknesses of the Round 4 applications and discussed areas that future applicants should consider in order to strengthen their applications. These are summarised below.

Research and practice experience to date

Applicants must clearly describe:

  • the relevant academic skills and experience they have developed to date
  • the relevant clinical (or practice) skills and experience they have developed to date 
  • how they will ensure the continuation of their profession practice development (their career in their stated profession) while undertaking the award 
  • their plans for the continuation of their practitioner/clinical academic career post-award
  • the impact this Fellowship will have on their career, justifying how the fellowship will provide a step change in their career trajectory 
In addition to supporting the Selection Committee's assessment of the applicant's clinical academic career potential, this detail contextualises the training and development proposal and should be reflected in the justifications provided in the training and development section of the form. 

There is an opportunity for applicants to detail both their relevant clinical and academic experience in the CV section of the application form (“present and previous positions”) and in response to the question “Please describe your research career to date” (which, for this scheme, would incorporate clinical academic career experience). 

Applicants with limited Research Experience/ limited links with Research Groups

Prospective applicants who have little and/or limited links with research groups may wish to consider an ICA Internship. ICA Internships are available annually and run for six months. They provide a range of both taught and academically supervised training opportunities that engage and expose the intern to the clinical academic research environment, and provide them with the practical skills to undertake a research project supported by an expert clinical academic supervisor.
 
The funding for ICA Internships is managed by HEE’s local teams. Any queries regarding the Internship opportunities should be directed to the appropriate local contact.

Terminology

Applicants must ensure that they use the correct terminology when describing their research involvement/experience (e.g. ''leading a trial'' or a local Pl). The Selection Committee would expect the proposed supervisory team to identify any terminology errors prior to application submission.  

Research Outputs

Competitive doctoral level applicants can demonstrate research outputs including peer reviewed publications. The PCAF Selection Committee must be able to assess an applicant’s publication record in order to determine their development needs in this area.

Applicants must ensure that publications are suitably referenced in the application. There is guidance in the Applicant Guidance Notes detailing how to add your research outputs to date to ensure they display correctly to the Selection Committee.

If an applicant has a limited publication record to date, they are advised to propose a plan in their application for strengthening their publication record. Applicants to the PCAF Bridge would be expected to have a strong publication record or clear evidence that there will be time to improve their research outputs before their doctoral application submission.

If an applicant is not named on a paper but contributed to the research (e.g. in a trial group that was part of a large multi-centre trial), they are advised to detail this in the application so it is clear why a paper is included, what it refers to and what their role in the research was.

Training and Development Programme

The training and development programme proposed in a PCAF application should address any gaps or weaknesses that would currently prevent the applicant from submitting a competitive doctoral fellowship application.

The training proposed must be tailored around the applicant’s demonstrable training needs and should reference the research experience and training to date (see above). Applicants are also encouraged to detail how they developed the training and development programme. There are a number of tools available that can support the identification of training needs, which applicants may find useful.

It is possible to build in research activities (including PPl) as part of the training and development programme, if research experience is identified as a training need, although applicants should be mindful that the award itself would fund the awardee’s time only and not the research costs.

PCAF Bridge applicants only – if no additional training is required, applicants can request time to develop a doctoral level application only. The reasoning behind this decision should be discussed in the application, however.

Full Masters

The completion of a formal academic qualification, such as a Master’s degree, can be supported as part of the training plan if appropriate to the developmental needs of the applicant. Applicants proposing a full Master’s must ensure that they have provided a full and clear justification as to why this is required (as opposed to e.g. Master’s modules) and that they detail how the components of the full masters each contribute to the PCAF training and planned future PhD application.

If proposing a Master’s degree, it is possible to request a supplement to cover the Master’s course fee if over and above the £5,000 limit for training. Costs for any training in addition to the Master’s could not be funded through the award if this qualification exceeded the £5000 limit.

Area of research interest

Applicants need to have a clear idea of the research area in which they will be developing their practitioner academic career (and therefore their doctoral fellowship proposal). The research area will inform the proposed training plan and the proposed supervisory team and should align with the applicant’s clinical work.

The Selection Committee expect applicant’s clinical work/ professional practice to be in the same area as their research interest (the area in which they will be developing their doctoral research proposal). If the applicant’s current clinical work is not in the same area as their area of research interest, the applicant will need to clearly demonstrate how they will work towards such alignment to support a competitive doctoral fellowship application.

Doctoral Fellowship Development

At the end of a PCAF award, applicants should be in a position to submit a competitive doctoral fellowship application.

Applicants are advised to clearly articulate in their application their plans for submission of a doctoral fellowship application and how the support they will receive over the course of their PCAF will be managed to facilitate this.

There are many routes to doctoral funding. In addition to the NIHR Doctoral Fellowship and HEE/NIHR ICA Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship, applicants may wish to consider the opportunities available through disease-specific charities and professional bodies.

Scale and Scope

Over the course of their award, Fellows are required to complete the training and development as described in their application and to develop a doctoral fellowship application.

Applicants are advised to consider carefully the amount of training and development proposed and the feasibility of undertaking this in addition to the development of a doctoral fellowship proposal.

Supervisors

Applicants are required to identify a primary and secondary supervisor. The choice of supervisors must be clearly justified in the application.

Applicants are advised to ensure that the information required (as detailed in the Applicant Guidance Notes) is provided in full for both supervisors.

Information to include:
  • Availability of the supervisor
  • Time commitment from the supervisor
  • Fit of the supervisor’s expertise with the stated area of research
  • Record of conversion of Master’s to PhD students.
  • Doctoral supervision experience
  • Plans for meetings with supervisors

The Selection Committee use this information to assess the suitability of the support proposed and without it will not be able to undertake a full assessment of your application.

Statement of support

This statement is completed by the Heads of Departments of the named health/care Organisation and the academic organization.

The statement should detail the experience of the organisation in supporting Master’s students to progress to doctoral level research and the organisation’s support for non-medical clinical academic careers.

The statement must also clearly describe how the institution will support the applicant and what arrangement will be in place to ensure protected time for the Fellowship. Statements must be tailored to the applicant.

PCAF or PCAF Bridge

The primary outcome for both a “standard” PCAF and a PCAF Bridge is the submission of a competitive doctoral fellowship application. Applicants to the PCAF Bridge are expected to be demonstrably closer to doctoral level application submission, and therefore requiring less training time. In considering whether the “standard” PCAF or the PCAF Bridge is the most suitable award to apply for, applicants should consider the following:

  • Research Outputs – please see above. If research outputs need strengthening, will there be sufficient time and sufficient data to do this over the course of a PCAF Bridge?
  • Doctoral research question – “full” PCAF applicants should have a clear idea of the research area their doctorate will be developed around but will plan to develop this over the course of their award into a research proposal. PCAF Bridge applicants are required to already have a well-developed research question, which can be refined over the course of the PCAF Bridge award.

Patient and Public Involvement 

Although the PCAF award cannot fund Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) activities (these are research costs and, therefore, outside of the scope of this award) applicants are expected to demonstrate an awareness of the need for PPI in their research and to describe their experience to date and any training needs in this area.  The PCAF award can support the applicant’s time to undertake PPI activities and fund PPI training.

Re-applications

Applicants to previous competitions will have received feedback on their application. If another application is
submitted, applicants should ensure that they have addressed all the feedback and that they detail in their
application how they have done this.

Arrangements for ensuring protected time for the Fellowship 

As part of their review, the Selection Committee assess the arrangements for ensuring protected time for the Fellowship (release from practice). Applicants should ensure that there is a clear plan for this and that this plan is detailed in the application to reassure the reviewers that this will happen.

Application presentation 

A number of Round 4 applications contained a large number of spelling or typing errors. Applicants are advised to ensure their applications have been proof-read before submission. Frequent Errors convey a lack of attention to detail which will concern reviewers when assessing suitability as an academic.

Useful Resource for Prospective Applicants

  • The Round 4 (2021) PCAF Applicant Guidance Notes are available from the PCAF web pages. These provide details of the PCAF scheme, including the eligibility requirements, the funding available, the required employment arrangements and the assessment criteria used by the PCAF Selection Committee when reviewing applications. The Applicant Guidance Notes should be read in full before starting an application.

    Please note – Updated Guidance Notes will be published with the launch of the Round 5 competition. Applicants must ensure that they are referring to the most recent Applicant Guidance Notes when making an application.

  • The HEE/NIHR ICA Programme Approved Regulatory Bodies and Regulators are available via the ICA web pages.
  • Award holders are listed on the NIHR web pages and may be a useful resource for prospective applicants wishing to link in with other practitioner academics.
  • ICA Programme Bridging Scheme supports non-medical practitioner academics to build on their previous academic training and to develop proposals for a doctoral or post-doctoral award, and to take the next step on their practitioner academic pathway. Information on the bridging support in your region is available through the Health Education England Clinical Academic Careers web pages.

Annex A 

''Standard'' PCAF Application and Awards Summary 

Competition Round

 Eligible Applications 

 Recommended

 Awarded

1 (2018)

145

85

40

2 (2019)

122

98

35*

3 (2020)

81

62

30

4 (2021)

75

62

33

*an additional 4 awards were offered subsequently due to an identified underspend.

PCAF Bridge Application and Awards Summary 

Competition Round

Eligible Applications

Recommended

Awarded

1 (2018)

N/A

N/A

N/A

2 (2019)

N/A

N/A

N/A

3 (2020)

24

20

20

4 (2021)

31

26

11

Round 4 ''Standard'' PCAF Applications and Success rate by Region

Region

Applied

Recommended

Top 33

East Midlands

5

5

2

East of England

7

7

3

London

29

25

16

North East

6

4

3

North West

8

7

2

South Central

2

2

0

South East Coast

2

1

1

South West

4

4

1

West Midlands

1

0

0

Yorkshire and the Humber

11

7

5

Total

75

62

33

Round 4 PCAF Bridge Applications and Success rate by Region

Region

Applied

Recommended

Top 11

East Midlands

1

1

1

East of England

0

0

0

London

11

9

4

North East

5

 5

1

North West

2

1

0

South Central

6

6

4

South East Coast

3

2

1

South West

1

 

1

 

0

West Midlands

0

 0

 0

Yorkshire and the Humber

2

1

0

Total

31

 26

11

Round 4 ''Standard'' PCAF Applications and Success rate by Gender

Region

Applied

Recommended

Top 33

Male

17

13

6

Female

56

47

25

Prefer not to say

2

2

2

Total

75

62

33

Round 4 PCAF Bridge Applications and Success rate by Gender

Region

Applied

Recommended

Top 11

Male

26

4

2

Female

5

22

9

Prefer not to say

0

0

0

Total

31

26

11

Round 4 ''Standard PCAF'' - Applications and Success rate by Profession

Profession

Applied

Recommended

Top 33

Art Therapist

1

0

0

Chiropractor

1

1

0

Dental Therapist

0

0

0

Dietitian

2

2

2

Healthcare Scientist

2

1

1

Midwife

6

6

3

Nurse

18

15

8

Occupational Therapist

1

0

0

Pharmacist 

9

5

2

Paramedic

0

0

0

Physiotherapist

21

20

11

Podiatrist

1

1

1

Practitioner Psychologist

0

0

0

Prosthetist / Orthotist

0

0

0

Radiographer (Diagnostic)

3

2

1

Speech and Language Therapist

10

9

4

Total

75

62

33

Round 4 PCAF Bridge - Applications and Success rate by Profession

Profession

Applied

Recommended

Top 11

Art Therapist

0

0

0

Chiropractor

0

0

0

Dental Therapist

0

0

0

Dietitian

0

0

0

Healthcare Scientist

4

4

2

Midwife

1

1

0

Nurse

5

4

2

Occupational Therapist

0

0

0

Pharmacist 

2

1

0

Paramedic

0

0

0

Physiotherapist

6

5

2

Podiatrist

2

1

0

Practitioner Psychologist

7

6

3

Prosthetist / Orthotist

0

0

0

Radiographer (Diagnostic)

2

2

0

Speech and Language Therapist

2

2

2

Total

31

26

11