The Doctoral Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (DACF) scheme constitutes the doctoral tier of the HEE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme and exists to support future clinical academic leaders with immediate aspirations for PhD study. The first round of the DCAF competition launched in April 2022 was concluded following the applicant interviews held on the 1st and 2nd November 2022. The DCAF scheme which is a successor to the Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship (CDRF) is a bi-annual two-rounds competition.
The scheme is open to all non-medical professions including but not limited to Allied health professions, non-medical public health, nursing and midwifery, pharmacy, social work and dental-related professions. For a full list of participating professions please go to annex A.
This document captures the key observations of the chairing team of the DCAF scheme.
Key Facts of the DCAF Round 1
The total number of applications received for this round was 49, and all were deemed eligible for consideration. The Selection Committee shortlisted 30 applicants, all of which attended the interview. Eighteen (18) applicants were deemed by the Selection Committee to lie within the fundable range; a thirty-seven percent (37%) success rate.
|DCAF Round 1 April 2022|
Analysis of applicant data showed that most applications came from physiotherapy (29%, similar to 25% in the previous CDRF Round 7). This was followed by nurses accounting for 16% of all applications (a notable drop from 29% in the previous CDRF Round 7), and 12% from healthcare scientists. The data also shows participation among 13 of the 27 professional groups (please see Annex A).
Regional participation in this Round (1) of the DCAF Scheme presents an interesting picture with London accounting for most of the application (33%) with the remaining 67% of applications originating from the rest of England. Of these, Yorkshire and The Humber, and East Midlands accounted for 14% each followed by the Northwest with 10% and West Midlands 8% of all applications. Similarly, the success rate of applications by region is dominated by London with 12% followed by Yorkshire and the Humber with 6%.
Gender participation in the DCAF scheme remains relatively similar to the previous CDRF scheme. The majority of applications came from female applicants with 76% (cf 75% of applicants in the last CDRF round). Male applicants accounted for only 22% in this maiden round of the DCAF scheme, which is less than the 25% recorded in the last CDRF competition. Similarly, most of the candidates (71%) who were shortlisted and interviewed in this round were female compared to 26% who identified as male.
With regards the progression of applicants from previous awards, this 1st round of DCAF competition witnessed an increased number of applications from previous awardees of the PCAF scheme. Forty-five (45%) per cent of 49 applications received came from previous NIHR PCAF/MRES awardees. Of the 23 applicants, twelve (24%) were shortlisted and interviewed, while 8 of those were successful at the interview and therefore among the 18 recommended for funding. In other words, almost half of the recommended applicants for funding came from previous HEE/NIHR ICA PCAF awardees.
The DCAF scheme, like all personal awards run by the NIHR, is managed through a selection committee that is comprised of experienced and well-established academics in the relevant fields covered by the scheme and drawn from across the United Kingdom. These are joined by a number of experienced individuals drawn from the general public, Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) members, who together undertake the assessment of applications and interview of applicants. Round 1 of the DCAF scheme involved a total of twenty-nine (29) academic and six (6) PPI members. Given that the DCAF scheme attracts a large number of applications, the selection committee presently consists of three chairs.
The Chairs’ observations
The chairing team of the DCAF Scheme observed the following during Round 1 of the DCAF Competition:
- There was concern about the lack of PPI involvement and engagement in many studies. There was an impression that this was a tick box exercise and that PPI had not been actively involved at key stages of the research design. This was reflected in costings, where there was a lack of provision for PPI involvement.
- There was still confusion between feasibility and pilot studies. There was often a mismatch between the study title and its objectives, and a lack of understanding how the research could be taken forward in future research. There were issues with both sample sizes for proposed feasibility and pilot studies.
- The choice of primary and secondary outcomes was not justified well by some candidates- particularly at interview. This was also true in regard to the choice of instruments and tools.
- There was a lack of understanding about mixed methods research, particularly around how quantitative and qualitative components and data should be integrated.
- The panel were concerned that some candidates proposed to develop new or adapted psychological interventions without sufficient reference to the existing evidence. Some did not seem to acknowledge the problems with implementation of NICE approved versions.
- Consideration of impact or route to patient benefit or policy impact needs to be clearly articulated. Some candidates were vague, demonstrating that they had not previously considered this.
- Candidates are encouraged to seek out the most appropriate course, opportunities, supervisors, and mentors to support their fellowship. This may be outside their region, although this also needs to be justified.
- Ensuring an appropriate mix of supervisors is important; there should ideally be a combination of skill mix and expertise. Again, this is likely to involve seeking supervisors from different institutions. However there needs to be a concrete plan of how this will be managed in practice.
- Having a vision of undertaking a clinical academic career is central to these awards. Links to appropriate mentorship is therefore vital.
- Candidates need to have a personal vision for their clinical academic career. Although some of this will be shaped by their institution, this is essentially supported by their links with mentors and clinicians.
- Visually, presentations were of a high standard and generally well-paced. However, it is vital that candidates stick to time in their presentations. Careful preparation is essential.
Other General Observations
The need for strong statements of support from the hosting organisations
The supporting statements submitted by an applicant’s proposed hosting organisations are an important part of the application process. Sometimes supporting statements that are weak and generic which fail to convey a reassuring level of support for, and understanding of, the proposal and the aspirations of the applicant can undermine the competitiveness of the application. Strong supporting statements convey a deeper insight into the candidate’s professional aspirations, an understanding of the benefits of the proposal to the organisation and the extent to which the organisation may be prepared to support the candidate’s professional aspirations. This is one aspect considered closely by Selection Committees who fully expect these statements to clearly articulate an ongoing and post-award commitment to the applicant’s academic career.
Using training awards to plug skills gaps in your career
Applicants to research training awards are encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity to gain experience in key areas that will improve their clinical and academic development such as methodologies, and new clinical approaches that they have not used previously. The training plan should incorporate sufficient support and training to ensure expertise will be demonstrable at the end of the award as they commence the next step towards being an independent researcher.
Plain English Summaries
The Plain English summary submitted as part of the application are assessed by the Selection Committee. If the summary does not provide a clear explanation of the proposed research to clinicians and researchers who do not have specialist knowledge of your field, as well as to members of the public, this will impact on the competitivity of the application when shortlisting decisions are made. Applicants are advised to use the support available from NIHR INVOLVE and the Research Design Service in the development of their Plain English summaries.
Frequent weaknesses in the Plain English Summaries include:
- Poor structure with large blocks of text and a lack of headings
- Poor explanations of terminology
- Too many unexplained acronyms
Further guidance on writing in plain English is available via the NIHR Involve webpages.
The cost of the project, including any NHS support and treatment costs
Applicants are required to provide fully costed application. While costs can be amended with the support of the NIHR during the subsequent contracting process, they are noted by the Selection Committee during assessment. Poorly costed plans, particularly if relating to NHS support and treatment costs or PPI, can give a negative impression to the Selection Committee.
Support from the NIHR Research Design Service (RDS)
Applicants need to be aware and take advantage of NIHR Research Design Services across the country. RDS staff are experienced and sometime observe Selection Committee meetings and they are well placed to provide advice and helpful feedback on applications prior to submission. For more inform on RDS, what they offer and where they are based, please visit the RDS website.
Whether to propose a part-time or full-time award
There is a tendency for applicants to propose part-time awards in order to continue within their existing clinical posts. These awards all contain protected clinical elements, and so it is not necessary for applicants to make such a concession in order to maintain professional practice. Applicants proposing a part-time award purely to undertake additional clinical activity should consider the potential impact of this on their academic career trajectory, although they may have justifiable reasons why they would want such an arrangement. This is not, obviously, a consideration that individuals proposing a part-time award for any other reason are expected to make. Applicants who, for personal reasons, already work part-time (or, indeed, anticipate working part-time in the near future) are more than welcome to propose a part-time award.
The need for advanced planning and proposal development
It usually takes between 6 months and a year to develop a competitive application. Successful proposals have, at the very least, been under development for a couple of months prior to the competition launch, during which time they have enjoyed the support of the supervisory team members, prospective host organisations, clinical supervisors, and mentors.
Annex A – Round 1 DCAF Application and success rates of professions.
|Radiographer (diagnostic & therapeutic)||1||1||0||0|
|Speech and language therapist||3||0||0||0|
|Non-Medical Public Health Specialty Trainees, Specialists and Consultants||2||2||0||1|
|Nurse and Midwife|
|Operating Department Practitioner||0||0||0||0|
|Optometrist and Dispensing Optician||0||0||0||0|
|Wider Dental Team Professions:|
Round 1 DCAF applications by region
|East Midlands||East of England||London||Northeast||Northwest||South Central||Southeast Coast||Southwest||West Midlands||Yorkshire and the Humber|
|Recommended for funding by the selection committee||18||1||1||6||2||1||1||1||0||2||3|
|% Success Rate (Per Applicant)||37%||2%||2%||12%||4%||2%||2%||2%||0%||4%||6%|
Round 1 DCAF applications from previous ICA Pre-doctoral Clinical Academic Fellowship (PCAF) award holders
Round 1 DCAF APPLICATIONS From Previous Awards
The Selection Committees have identified a variety of resources that prospective applicants might find useful in relation to some of the weaknesses identified above.
- NIHR Nursing and Midwifery
Opportunities for nurses and midwifes at the NIHR.
- Nursing and Midwifery incubator
This NIHR funded incubator support potential applicants from the nursing and midwifery professions to submit competitive applications.
- Mixed Methods Study Designs:
Prospective applicants are advised to consider this article, and particularly the 10 resources highlighted within it.
- NIHR Clinical Trials Guide:
The NIHR has produced a Clinical Trials Guide, and recommends that prospective applicants intending to propose a trial consult it at the earliest opportunity.
- Guidance on Applying for Feasibility Studies. See also:
Whitehead AL, Sully BG, Campbell MJ. Pilot and feasibility studies: is there a difference from each other and from a randomised controlled trial? Contemp Clin Trials. 2014 May; 38(1): 130-3.
- MRC Guidance on the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions:
This study has updated the MRC's framework in the light of developments in complex intervention research since 2006, adopting a pluralist approach and encouraging the consideration and use of diverse research perspectives.
- Patient Reported Outcomes:
The University of Birmingham’s Centre for Patient Reported Outcomes Research has a freely available NIHR funded information resource on PROs of potential use to prospective applicants, and more broadly, to those involved in PROs.