NIHR Annual Trainee Meeting- Lessons and Learning Points

The NIHR is the National Institute for Health Research and aims to create and support world class research in the NHS by healthcare professionals. In simple terms, it’s the NHS’ research ‘side.’ To this end, it has a number of ‘training pathways’ to choose from, depending on what sort of healthcare professional you are. The scheme I am on is called the Academic Clinical Fellowship (ACF) and in part aims to support medical doctors to be in a position to do a PhD. As part of our training, we have access to all sorts of training days- one of them being this big meeting in Leeds each year.

It’s the first time I’ve been and I really enjoyed it. So I thought, and as per request, that I would share some of the lessons and learning points.

The NIHR Academy


The first thing to say is that the NIHR plans to change its name and structure somewhat in the coming year. It will be known as an Academy and it will do away with the term ‘trainee.’ Those of you reading that were in Britain during the ‘Junior Doctor’ contract ‘debate’ may know how difficult we found it to explain the term ‘Junior Doctor’ to the general public. It’s a catch-all term for anyone that’s not a Consultant- ie, many of us are married with kids, a mortgage, more than 10years experience of working as a doctor and often are running the hospital! Similarly, the term ‘trainee’ is one that the NIHR has recognised as being somewhat patronising and not fully articulating the experience some of the NIHR researchers actually have. Consequently, from now on the NIHR Annual Trainee Meeting will have a different name too!

The main point of all this though is that I actually felt like the NIHR was genuinely enthusiastic and listening to the concerns of its members. It is also working hard to change attitudes to research within the NHS. It has hit upon an odd culture that has previously made it difficult for Allied Healthcare Professionals (AHPs eg, Physiotherapists, Occupational Health, ODPs, Psychologists etc) and Nursing staff to both do research AND clinical practice. The NIHR aims to change this and is very keen to attract AHPs and Nurses to the research-fold. 

If this is you then keep a close eye on the NIHR website for opportunities to develop your career in research.

The NIHR Career Pathway

As if to prove their determination to attract AHPs, the event kicked off with presentations from various researchers about their careers- with talks from a Dietician, a Psychologist and a Doctor with a Basic Sciences background.

It was an enjoyable way of seeing how everyone gets to where they end up and how varied things can be. Oh, and how to say yes to opportunities and not plan every minute bit of your career- you can’t and life is more fun if you don’t… 

Writing Workshop


We had two break-out workshops, covering about 6 subjects. The first of these was the Writing Workshop by Dr Pete Moore who founded Think Write. He amusingly refers to himself as having accidentally written several books. Affable, approachable and very knowledgable, he took us through one of his booklets in order to teach us the art of writing.

Well, actually, the science. Pete and his team have come up with essentially a strategic model for writing. Think of it as a more simple and honed plan. Beyond that, he gave us lots of tips based around the ‘5 core questions’ that Think Write state you should be answering in order to write whatever it is you’re writing.

I’ve been to a number of writing workshops now and I never regret it. Each one provides me with a new tip, a new take-home message. Given my butterfly mind and often illogical thinking, I have to work hard to ground myself in order to achieve my goals. I’m looking forward to putting some of Pete’s tips to work. 

If you’re interested, some of it is available on their website (see below).

Media Workshop

I’ve been to a couple of media workshops now too. This was very good though. Hosted by LeFevre media (see below), it was really helpful to have an experienced broadcaster like Caroline talking us through what the media really wants from interviews.

Some of the key points might seem obvious- know what your key messages are before you start, don’t call your interviewer by the wrong name- but she allowed us to put things into practice. If you want a media workshop in the future, this was a good one to have (again, link below).

Stats Talk

That’s right- a talk about statistics that was so interesting that I am actually blogging about it!

As researchers, we all come to a point where we need to use them. Half the time we don’t understand what it is we need to do or how to do it and that usually results in us crying to some poor statistician that REALLY needed you to have spoken to them at the beginning and not at the soggy end. Jennifer Rogers (@StatsJen) managed to deliver an amusing talk while hammering home the important thought patterns needed with stats. She also pointed us to the fabulous Spurious Correlations website which is amusing- you know, in a sciencegeek type of way (site below).

Finally, the SUMO guy

The whole event wrapped up with a brilliant talk about maintaining our own health in all of this. Paul McGee has managed to create a self-help/motivational speak business by telling everyone to ‘Shut Up, Move On’ or ‘Stop, Understand, Move On’ for the youngsters learning to be polite!


Having suffered with depression in the past, I recognised in Paul’s speech a lot of the CBT-type techniques that I’ve used myself (see my blog post Rejection and the ‘Science’ of Recoveryfrom August about this subject). Paul has an amazing delivery and to be honest, you could learn just as much about public speaking from him as anything else!! He has a book out that I intend to get and a website that will tell you more (see below).



All in all it was a lovely couple of days, meeting new people and learning new skills. If you are a healthcare professional in Britain and you want to see what new skills you can acquire then look to the NIHR. I feel very lucky to have got my ACF as it is so every next step in research will just be part of the adventure.

The main lesson? Perseverance is the key but you can have fun while you’re learning.


@StatsJen – Twitter
Spurious Correlations:

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