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Applying for a CoR Doctoral Fellowship: A sonographer’s experience

18 October, 2019

Author: Emily Skelton, School of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences/Perinatal Imaging Department, King's College London

Emily Skelton
Emily Skelton

“What’s the point of you doing a PhD? It won’t make any difference to your job.”

When discussing my plans for doctoral study, I was surprised at the number of times this was the reaction from both clinical and academic colleagues. Despite the questions around my motivation to study, or how it would even be possible for a sonographer in full-time employment to pursue a doctoral qualification, there are multiple reasons why I chose to chase the PhD dream.

From making an original contribution to knowledge in medical ultrasound, improving future patient care and representing my professional community in research, to career development and personal growth.

Yes, the prospect of juggling doctoral studies with employment can be intimidating, but with the support of the College of Radiographers (CoR), whose aim is to see the number of radiographers that hold or are studying towards a doctoral qualification increased to 300 by 2021, I feel well placed to make my contribution to radiographic research.

The College of Radiographers Fellowship Grant
Together with my supervisors, we decided that the CoR Fellowship Grant was most suited to the scope of my research project, which aims to better understand expectant parents’ experiences of antenatal imaging. We felt it would allow for rapid dissemination of my study findings to the sonographic community.

The CoR Fellowship Grant provide an opportunity for radiographers and sonographers to undertake funded doctoral research. Two awards of up to £25,000 may be offered each year to full members of the Society of Radiographers (SoR).

Writing my research proposal
With a submission deadline of the first Monday of April, the process of writing the research proposal could begin! Writing an application takes longer than you expect; from start to submission, it took around six months to write my proposal. For some larger-scale fellowship grants such as the National Institute for Health Research, it may take up to a year to put together an application.

The basic title of my project had already been agreed by my academic supervisors but from here on it was up to me to design the study. I began by conducting a literature review around the research topic to get an idea of what was already known, finding the gaps, and identifying where I could provide an original contribution to knowledge. This process helped me to refine my research questions and devise a suitable methodology.

I also needed to create a budget. This was not something I had written before, and so I sought advice from university grant officers to help me calculate my research costs for the project (salary backfill, tuition fees, research expenses, and conference attendance). The CoR Fellowship Grant is hugely flexible in comparison to others that stipulate exactly how funds should be allocated, so it is important to ensure that the grant you are applying for will cover your budgetary requirements.

Patient and public involvement
An essential component of any research proposal is patient and public involvement (PPI). When considering how my work could potentially improve patient services, a quote from the SCoR’s Patient, Public and Practitioner Partnerships Guiding Principles particularly resonated with me: “You need to know what is important to me, and not make assumptions” (p13).

I presented my ideas to several UK-based organisations with established parent advisory groups and asked for their views. Their support and enthusiasm for my project was encouraging; parent members wanted to be involved in the work, and I invited them to form dedicated PPI groups to provide ongoing feedback.

The interview
I submitted my application and, after a few anxious weeks, was invited to an interview in front of a panel of expert research radiographers. Although by far the most terrifying part of the application process for me personally, the interview provided an incredible opportunity to present my research to an audience other than my work colleagues, friends or family. I prepared a 15-minute presentation to introduce my project, which was followed by 45 minutes of questions.

These were focused on the research design to ensure that I had a sound epistemological understanding, and that my proposed methodology was appropriate. I admit to feeling more than a little nervous discussing my work with such experienced and influential figures in the radiographic world, but giving presentations are a requisite of research, and I went away hoping that my passion for the topic had distracted attention from my shaking hands.

I received an email to say that the interview panel were prepared to award the full fellowship, subject to some changes to my study protocol. The panel felt that my proposal was too large for a doctoral project and made some suggestions to help scale it down, including using a smaller sample size and reducing some of the study variables.

I was not discouraged by this; revisions, corrections and amendments are an essential part of the review process and it is important to use feedback constructively and not become disheartened by suggestions from those reading your work. Comments from others often help to identify weaknesses in the study design that you hadn’t considered, and can only make your research more robust.

Getting started
My place in the doctoral school at City, University of London has been confirmed and I am due to start my studies in January 2020. The application process has been intense and, at times, overwhelming. However, the support I received from my project supervisors, SoR professional officers and fellow radiographers made it a lot easier.

For anyone considering applying for funding for a CoR Doctoral Fellowship Grant, here are my five top tips;

  1. Give yourself plenty of time to write your research proposal; at least six months is usually required.
  2. Choose a topic that fits the CoR research priorities and which you are passionate about. Your enthusiasm for the topic will be one of the greatest motivators when applying.
  3. Consider how to incorporate PPI activities into your work. The feedback I received from parent advisory groups was invaluable to shaping my research design.
  4. Seek advice if you are unsure. From budgets to research design, find out who you can contact for help. SoR professional officers are friendly, approachable and incredibly helpful!
  5. Take time to reflect on the process. It’s amazing to look back and see how much I’ve grown, both personally and professionally. Reflecting on the challenges as well as the achievements will help to identify opportunities for learning and development as a researcher.

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