Reflection of an Early Career Researcher: First Grant Proposal as Principal Investigator

By Dr Stephanie Hanley, Research Fellow, University of Birmingham

I started with the MuM-PreDiCT team in November 2021, where I am working on an interview study aimed at understanding experiences of pregnancy with two or more long-term health conditions, whilst also gaining insights from partners and healthcare professionals on their views of care, and where improvements can be made.

At the start of the year, I was given the opportunity to lead on my first grant proposal, and although it was daunting (and stressful!) at the time, I’m so glad that I accepted the opportunity (and, of course, that we were successful in obtaining the funding).

The funding was awarded to help us create a Community of Practice to share knowledge, experience, and tips on making it easier for people to take part in health research and also to get involved in developing research. In particular, we will focus on including and supporting people with two or more long term health conditions, and from a wide variety of backgrounds, to be more involved with health research. The Community of Practice will include people with two or more long term health conditions, Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) leads and health researchers who are at the start of their careers.

Throughout the process of developing the grant, I have learnt a lot about myself, both as an individual and as a researcher. I have shared a few reflections below…

Learning new skills

One of my biggest learnings over the last 6 months has been around leadership. Previously, I have been guilty of doing everything because I’ve felt like everyone else was too busy to help or that I couldn’t ask them, for whatever reason. Ultimately, I was put in a situation where I had to delegate certain tasks to other members of the team, otherwise we wouldn’t have finished writing the grant prior to the submission deadline.

Who knew that it was so hard to keep meetings to time? Not me, until I started on this project (and in my role on MuM-PreDiCT)! It definitely takes certain skills to keep to an agenda and keep conversations moving along, and I’m constantly refining this new skill.

It’s ok to ask for help!

That’s what I need to keep reminding myself. I need to remember that nobody expects me to know everything and that we’re all one team working towards the project goals (whilst supporting each other along the way).

This was my first experience of writing a grant proposal, and I’ve learnt a lot about the crucial elements of a successful grant proposal whilst leaning on others who are more experienced in grant writing for advice and support when I needed it most.

Imposter syndrome

Not sure if it’s just who I am as a person or because I’m at an early stage in my career (and feel like I don’t know enough) but on many occasions I’ve felt the ‘imposter syndrome’ creep in where, as per the definition, internally I believe that I’m not as competent as others perceive me to be. I’m not sure when or if these feelings will go, but what I do know is that I have a very supportive team around me, and I’ve worked had to get to this position so I should try and enjoy my first experience as a Principal Investigator.

Thank you!

I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has contributed to the work so far- I couldn’t have done it without you. Rachel Plachcinski and Ngawai Moss from the MuM-PreDiCT project, Julie Clayton (LINC; University of Bristol), Jenny Robertson (AIM-CISC; University of Edinburgh) and Ralph Kwame Akyea (AIM; University of Southampton) have all been instrumental in the grant development stages, so thank you. I’m really looking forward to delivering the work, guided by the PPI experts, whilst continuing to develop my leadership and project delivery skills and hopefully lessening the symptoms of imposter syndrome along the way! Our plans for the first part of the project are to deliver a workshop where members of the Community of Practice will share their experiences of engaging with and being part of PPI groups. We will keep you up to speed with how the project is progressing.

Dr Steph Hanley is the Principal Investigator for the Public and Patient Involvement Community of Practice (CoP). Grant details: Invitation Only: Strategic Priority Fund Multimorbidity CoP 2022, (MR/X004341/1). The work is funded by the Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research, in partnership with the Economic and Social Research Council.

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