Reflections from the 2015 CLAHRC East of England Boot Camp: A blog by Kate Lee, Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist

‘If I had known then what I know now’

This wKate Leeas the title of the introductory panel session in which the ‘Boot Camp’ delegates heard from a panel of six highly successful clinical researchers. The panel included Professors Peter Jones, Claire Goodman, Tony Arthur, Carol Brayne, John Clarkson and Dr Stephen Barclay who described their career biographies for the benefit of an audience of NIHR doctoral fellowship hopefuls. Between them they shared the kind of insights which only come from the experience of getting it right eventually, after years of trying to navigate one’s way into clinical academia: “It’s retrospectively that you work out the narrative of your career”. I could write an entire blog by simply listing the many pearls of wisdom shared in that first session but I’ll be select. As is invariably the case when talking to academic advisors, the advice and reflections from individuals on the panel were often contrasting, yet not contradictory somehow. Here are a few gems which resonated with me as someone who is just starting to form my doctoral project idea:

  • Do what you’re passionate about because you believe in it!Boot Camp
  • Don’t start too many projects (filter things before you start them)
  • Don’t copy the people you look up to
  • Don’t worry about whether you can do the work or not – the question is, can you bring people along with you?
  • When you get opportunities to do research outside of your specific area take them – don’t over-focus at this stage
  • Esta Quores – Be what you are!

Boot Camp 2


And so began the first evening of a 24 hour ‘Boot Camp’ hosted by the East of England CLAHRC and organised by Claire Goodman, Tony Arthur and Emma Dickerson. There were nine participants, all with a declared intention to apply for a NIHR integrated clinical academic (ICA) programme doctoral fellowship. The residential camp provided much needed time and space away from the day job for us to immerse ourselves in discussion about our proposed projects which are all at varying stages of development.

Boot Camp1


There were several highlights in addition to the opening panel discussion. The collegiate dinner afforded more opportunities to talk to the panel members about our own projects, and the food and wine were very good too. Leanne Miller shared advice as a successful applicant about how to put a strong application together, and how to prepare for the gruelling interview if successful. This was complemented by a very helpful talk from Professor Sally Kendall who interviews on the NIHR ICA panels. There were opportunities to present our project ideas to the other delegates and in the context of one-to-one ‘surgeries’ with the panel experts.

All in all, the camp was exceptionally helpful in guiding me to the next steps in this process of PhD application preparation. It was both challenging and validating. By the end of the camp our projects had been scrutinised by fellow delegates and the panel members – a process which exposed the many areas for development and provided direction for building the projects. Personally I found the networking opportunity as helpful as the planned sessions. I was lucky enough to meet a fellow delegate who has been an invaluable help in establishing new clinical research partnership opportunities.

Since boot camp I have started a one year CLAHRC Fellowship which supports me to focus on my research interest one day a week. This has provided time to work on the literature review for my proposed PhD topic – the initial step towards distilling my specific research question. Along with a primary care researcher bursary, the fellowship is providing opportunities to write for publication through close working with CLAHRC academic advisors. I presented my first conference poster this month and will deliver my first conference paper next month. I am gradually building a potential supervisory team and collaborative partnerships with other clinical researchers with a view to submitting a NIHR ICA doctoral fellowship application next year. As a grateful boot camp participant I would thoroughly recommend the opportunity to anyone who is thinking of embarking on the challenging process of applying for a clinical doctorate.

Kate Lee



We are considering holding a second boot camp event during 2016 and will invite registrations of interest in spring 2016. To receive notification of the interest call and other opportunities please register for our weekly e-newletter update or follow us on twitter @CLAHRC_EoE.r

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