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Chair's Report: NIHR Development and Skills Enhancement Award


Published: 04 January 2021

Version: 1.0 Jan 2021

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The NIHR Academy launched the first round of Development and Skills Enhancement Award (DSE) Award in 2019 as part of the newly restructured NIHR Fellowship Programme, funded by the Department of Health and Social Care.
The new NIHR Fellowship Programme supports individuals with the potential and on a trajectory to become future leaders in NIHR research. The programme has been designed to support people at various points in their development to become leading researchers; from initial pre-doctoral training right through to senior post-doctoral research. Four different types of Fellowship are available:
  • Pre-doctoral Fellowship
  • Doctoral Fellowship
  • Advanced Fellowship
  • Development and Skills Enhancement Award
The DSE Award is a post-doctoral level award aimed at supporting NIHR Academy Members to gain specific skills and experience to support the next phase of their research career. The award supports a mixture of applications in areas of strategic importance and researcher led applications.

Strategic Themes

We have a number of strategic areas which we are keen to develop expertise in, although all applicants do not necessarily need to target these areas. If you are proposing training which fits within one or more of these themes you should indicate this on the application form.
These themes are:
  • Health data science
  • Clinical trials
  • Entrepreneurship and working with industry

Development and Skills Enhancement (DSE) Award Rounds 1-3

The DSE Award launches three times a year in May, September and January. Each round is open to applications for approximately 3 months. Following the close of competition, the NIHR Academy check all applications for eligibility, and to identify applications clearly outside of NIHR remit. All eligible applications are then assessed by 3 individual selection committee members. A funding recommendation meeting is held to discuss the applications and make recommendations for funding. Following review of the indicative budget for the programme, NIHR Academy will then request approval from the Department of Health and Social Care for the applications that can be accommodated.
In the first year of the Development and Skills Enhancement (DSE) Award we received 42 applications, 26 of which were awarded funding, further details are available in Annex A.
We are pleased to see applications from a wide range of NIHR Academy Member and from a broad range of professional backgrounds (Annex A). We would like to see more applications from academy members who are keen to collaborate with industry and we are increasing the number of opportunities to provide more bespoke programmes for Academy Members to be able to do this.

Development and Skills Enhancement (DSE) Award Selection Committee Observations

During the funding recommendation meetings, the selection committee made a number of observations about the applications received.

Candidates should clearly outline their planned career trajectory

Applicants are advised to clearly describe the relevant academic and research skills and experience they have developed to date. In addition to supporting the selection committee’s assessment of the applicant’s applied health or social care research career potential, this detail contextualises the training and development proposal, and supports the justification provided for the training proposed.
Individuals applying for the DSE Award should describe the impact this award will have on their future career, including reasons for undertaking this award, and where the applicant sees their career going as result of doing completing this award. Specifically, how the proposed training and development enhances your chances of achieving you career goals.
It should also be clearly stated what the next planned application is. For example, an Advanced Fellowship, Clinical Lectureship etc.
Proposed training and development plans could be improved by including more detail; particularly how the training and development will aid career aims. A Gantt chart uploaded with the application form would also help the selection committee understand the timeline of the planned training.
Applicants must detail in their application how the proposed training plan will support their development in applied health and social care research, how it might meet their unique training needs and how the training plan will support the development of a competitive future funding application.
The training may include, but is not limited to:
  • Formal courses
  • Training in specialist skills and research methodologies
  • Placements with other research groups or centres
  • Leadership training
  • Conference attendance
  • Research visits*
  • Patient and Public Involvement
*Research visits should be substantial enough to be valuable, and the justification for a research visit should be clearly articulated within the Training and Development plan.
It is important to include enough detail in the application for the selection committee to understand why each training element is required and how it links to your future career aspirations.

Successful applicants had multiple supervisors/mentors

The panel will assess the appropriateness of the proposed academic supervision. Where formal supervision may not be appropriate, NIHR Academy believe that the applicant will benefit from research support or mentorship. The individual(s) who provide research support may or may not be based in your host organisation. They should however, have a clear understanding of the research process, the demands your chosen area of training and development are likely to place on you, and your particular strengths and weaknesses. Research support is referred to in the literature as ‘mentorship’ and there are numerous models to be found that could be employed.

Outputs from the award should be made clearer

Although we expect a wide range of outputs from the DSE award, we expect the applicant to clearly detail what outputs are expected from the award. These outputs don’t necessarily need to be the typical academic outputs you might expect, such as publications and conferences presentations, but can be outputs such as skills gained and collaborations made.

Matched funding

The host organisation should detail the level of matched funding being committed to this award and where less than 50% of the total cost of the award, the host organisation should provide a rationale and justification for this. Lack of matched funding does not necessarily mean that the award will not be funded. No applications have yet been rejected due to the lack of matched funding.
It should also be noted that matched funding is expected from the host and not the collaborator or industry partner.
We would urge any application with queries around matched funding to contact NIHR Academy at the earliest opportunity.
Applicants applying for one of the highlighted themes (Clinical Trials, Health Data Science or Entrepreneurship and working with industry) need to ensure they meet the criteria outlined in Annex D-F.
Whilst applications can vary between the highlighted themes, it is important that the applicant pays particular attention to the criteria outlined in the associated annex. If applying under a highlighted theme the applicant should ensure that the training they have proposed meets the criteria of the selected theme.

Useful Resource for Prospective Applicants

  • NIHR Development and Skills Enhancement (DSE) Award Guidance Notes are available from the NIHR website. These provide full details of the DSE Award scheme, including the eligibility requirements, the funding available, the required employment arrangements and the assessment criteria used by the DSE Selection Committee when reviewing applications. The Applicant Guidance Notes should be read in full before starting an application 

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

  • The Frequently Asked Questions in Annex A of the Guidance Notes answers common questions from prospective applicants.
  • Current and previous NIHR training award holders are listed on the NIHR Funding and Awards website and may be a useful resource for prospective applicants wishing to link in with other nonmedical clinical academics.

Annex A

Table 1. Development and Skills Enhancement Award Summary – Applied and Funded 

 ThemeRound 1 AppliedRound 1 FundedRound 2 AppliedRound 2 FundedRound 3 AppliedRound 3 FundedTotal AppliedTotal Funded
Clinical trials 4 2 2 2 13 9 19 13
Health data science 7 4 2 1 7 4 16 9
Industry 0 0 1 1 1 1 2 2
Researcher led 3 1 1 1 1 0 5 2
Total 14 7 6 5 22 14 42 26

Table 2. Development and Skills Enhancement Award Summary – Professional Backgrounds

Professional BackgroundRound 1
(May 2019) Applied
Round 1 (May 2019) AwardedRound 2 (September 2019) AppliedRound 2 (September 2019) AwardedRound 3
(January 2020) Applied
Round 3 (January 2020) Awarded
Allied Health Professional 5 2 1 1 3 3
Nurse/Midwife 2 2 0 0 3 2
Medically Qualified 4 0 2 1 7 4
Other Registered Health Professional 1 1 2 2 4 2
Not A Registered Health Professional 2 2 1 1 5 3
Total 14 7 6 5 22 14

Table 3. Development and Skills Enhancement Award Summary – Previously held awards

 Previously held awardRound 1Round 2Round 3Total
Doctoral Research Fellowship 1 2 4 7
Career Development Fellowship 1 0 1 2
Postdoctoral Fellowship 1 1 0 2
Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship 1 0 3 4
ICA Clinical Lectureship 3 1 1 5
ICA Senior Clinical Lectureship 1 0 0 1
Academic Clinical Fellowship 1 0 1 2
NIHR Clinical Lectureship 2 1 5 8
Infrastructure 2 1 5 8
Support Post 0 0 1 1
Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellowship 1 0 0 1
Senior Research Fellowship 0 0 1 1
Total 14 6 22 42