How to ensure research findings are heard

Taking up training opportunities as a PhD student on a strict timescale can be challenging. Deep in analysis on my end-of-life care study, I even deliberated when offered a place at the flagship National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) annual doctoral training camp. I shouldn’t have: it was brilliant. If you have opportunity to attend the 2016 camp, I hope my account will persuade you to take it, regardless of your time constraints.

The camp this year (topics change annually) was about effective communication plans; learning how to ensure research findings are heard and read far beyond the walls of the conference hall and the peer-reviewed journal. Three days of interactive learning were well worth it. I shared the experience at Ashridge Business School, deep in the Hertfordshire countryside, with 70 delegates from NIHR groups across the country (I am on the back row, third from the right).

NIHR Training Camp 2015

The Camp focused on the fictional Making People Healthier Research Programme, and we were tasked with designing a strategy to promote the findings of one of its research studies. Split into small teams to achieve this, we were given practical training and assigned a mentor to help us. I hit the jackpot with Cath Exely who, as a sociologist with an interest in end of life care, couldn’t have better matched my research interests. Our team even won a prize for Best Press Release!

The value of the camp was apparent on arrival on Wednesday, when I had opportunity to have a careers consultation with Professor Gary Frost. Next we were given an engaging presentation on the value of communicating well. This was swiftly followed by winning delegate presentations and the best organised poster session I’ve attended, with dedicated time for poster authors to present their work. After work was over for the day, there was time to explore Ashridge. The Business School is set in an impressive country house with extensive grounds and a well-deserved reputation for excellent food. Thursday was intense. Our task was to complete a communications plan and an accompanying presentation. We were also hit throughout the day with urgent requests for media responses, TV interviews conducted with a journalist who made Jeremy Paxman’s Newsnight interrogations seem timid, and cross-examinations from a PPI panel. Friday gave us opportunity to present our plans to a board of critical academics, clinicians, patients and NHS representatives. Typical of the Camp, this final task was challenging, fun and a great learning experience.

On the train back to Cambridge I reflected on my three days at Ashridge: new contacts in my phone, inspiration to publicise the findings I hope to achieve from my PhD ( and heaps of practical advice to do it. Thank you to: CLAHRC and Professor Tony Arthur for the opportunity, the NIHR for the course, and Professional Briefings for the superb organisation. I would highly recommend the course. If you have opportunity to attend, do!

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