Guest Blog: To research or not to research that is the question?

David Wright is Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Deputy Head of the School of Pharmacy, University of East Anglia

And so the decision is finally out on the big NIHR Programme grant application. After four years of being initially rejected due to being under ambitious and overly expensive, resubmitting a revised outline application, making it through the full application stage, responding to the eight methodologist reviewers, writing the full application and responding to ten external reviewers we received the decision letter on the 31st of July 2014.  The awarding body had promised late July for the outcome but 2pm on the last day of the month tested my mental strength to its limit.

There was a clear inverse logarithmic relationship between the closeness to the deadline and the number of times I was asked in any one day by different individuals whether we had heard yet.  I now realise that it is not just the research team who have a vested interest in the outcome.  The clinical trials unit require a certain amount of funding to enable them to maintain their status; the schools/departments have targets for overheads (although this type of grant doesn’t provide any); the NHS trust requires success as it receives additional money for every £1 received through grant income; research assistants rely on new grants to keep them in employment; members of the team see how this can affect the external reputation of the research team/school; and most importantly partners, who get bored asking why you are looking so stressed, what are the big sighs for and how come you now look much older than your age.

So what have I learned in the process?

Firstly, it is great working with excellent researchers.  If people are good at what they do and confident in their knowledge then team working is easy.  I have been able to work with individuals for four years who are all where they are due to their intellectual ability and hard work.  Just listening to them has been excellent for my CPD.

Secondly, I truly know the importance of multi-professional working and making it clear that this study was about integrating the pharmacist into the team and improving patient care, and not about using the pharmacist as a sticking plaster to be placed over the ‘bleeding wound’ of medication errors. Listening carefully to so many views and taking them on board is hard work, but ensures that the final application is much stronger.  Furthermore, the reviewers were clearly multi-professional, and therefore anything which was not seen to be integrated was less likely to be funded.

Thirdly, I can see that taxpayers’ money is well and truly protected and the guardians of the money will only agree to spend it when they are convinced that investment will provide some value for money, is reasonably likely to be successful, and the team can be trusted to deliver the project.  At the end of the day you have to believe in the idea, sell it, and convince a third party to go with you.

Finally, I have learned to respond to reviewers in a professional and considered manner.  Furthermore, I realise that you need to accept all feedback and try to respond to it rather than defend your starting position.  This approach seems to receive a much better outcome. As a result of the numerous reviews and comments we have ended up with a better research proposal and whilst we don’t always like what reviewers have to say, they generally say it for good reason.

I think therefore the important messages from my experiences have been to build the right team, work in a multi-professional manner, respond without emotion to feedback, be confident of your idea and sell it well.

The main thing that I have learned however is that commitment and resilience do pay off.  We were ultimately successful and the project started on May 1st. On May 12th I was supplying the promised champagne to the team with much celebrating and enthusiasm for another five years of working together.

I do however need to look at both my workload and work life balance as the grant now has to be delivered and a couple of other unexpected projects are appearing on the horizon.

This follows on from the blog that David wrote last year about his efforts to secure this funding – To teach or not to teach.

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Guest blogs are not edited by Pharmacy Research UK. The opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Pharmacy Research UK.


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