NIHR Research Design Service South West    

Residential Research Retreat
26th to 28th November 2019. Dillington House - Somerset. Now closed to applications.

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  Introduction | About the Retreat | Conditions of entry | Costs | Application form | Assessment criteria |
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  Dillington House  

About the Retreat


Over the last 14 years the Residential Research Retreat has been a highlight for health and health services researchers in the South West. Those selected will benefit from:

  • protected time dedicated to the development of research projects away from the distractions and demands of clinical or social care practice;
  • the experience of working as part of a professional research team;
  • the opportunity to have their skills in writing research proposals honed and polished;
  • ‘hands-on’ experience of the methodological, technical, and practical issues in planning and conducting research.

The achievements of the Retreat are reflected in the success of research projects developed there and the continued involvement of the alumni of the Retreat in the local research community as research enthusiasts and advocates. The Retreat has changed from year to year – reflecting our experience of running the event, the particular needs of the participants that year, and shifts in NHS R&D policy. However, there are three consistent features that have contributed to its success.

1. Research teams
Participants come to the Retreat as a project team. Team-working is an important aspect of modern practice in high quality research. Teams improve their skills together but they also develop their individual skills through the division of labour within the team. Moreover, teams work together for the duration of the Retreat. The commitment of the individuals to the shared task and to the other members of the team is an important element in the Retreat experience - and in the success of the resulting project.

2. Competition for places - choice of participants
Selection to participate in the Retreat is competitive. Although the standards are high – and have become more rigorous over the years - this does not mean that the Retreat is exclusively for experienced researchers. Indeed, the suitability of the research idea and its appropriateness to the NHS or social care are more important criteria than the experience or methodological expertise demonstrated by the research team. Some of the Retreat’s greatest successes have come from teams with little previous experience of research who have had a great research idea and the commitment to see it achieved. Teams are asked to submit their research ideas using the Retreat application form.

Applications are assessed for quality and potential using the criteria described elsewhere on this website. The assessment will include an explicit evaluation of the potential of the proposal to make a successful application for national peer-reviewed funding. Final decisions are made by the RDS SW Project Review Committee (PRC). This open competition has had benefits both for the individuals who apply (winning a place is an achievement in itself), and for the research culture in the South West as the interest generated by the competition has heightened the profile and status of research within the health and social care community.

3. Applied experience
The task that forms the focus for participants of the Retreat is to plan a research project and to write a high quality, fundable proposal. This task is a real one: participants are planning their own research project for which they will seek funding and ultimately carry out. During the Retreat they work as professional researchers with the professional advice and support of the advisers on the Retreat staff. The absolute requirement that the teams work to the highest standards of creativity and intellectual rigour for an extended period provides participants with an experience of what it takes to succeed in the competitive world of contemporary research.

Residential Research Retreat activities.
The precise timetable is decided before the Retreat by the staff in light of their review of the projects and participants coming to the Retreat. The consistent components of the curriculum are described below.

Working with the support of the adviser team
Teams work on the development of their projects while guided and assisted by members of the adviser team. All of the advisers are experienced in supporting the general development of grant proposals, and individual members have a variety of specialist expertise. Teams will have access to all advisers and will typically discuss their proposal with each of them over the course of the Retreat. Working with the advisers establishes professional standards of work as well as influencing the developing research proposal directly. Being challenged - and expected - to work to the highest standards provides the core learning experience of the Retreat.

Working as a team
For some of the time during the Retreat, teams will work on their own. Working together without intervention from the adviser or support team is useful both for team dynamics and because it provides an opportunity for the teams to assimilate the day’s learning.

Brief presentations
Although there is relatively little formal teaching, all the participants do come together at least once each day for a short session led by one of the adviser team. This will typically be a brief presentation on a particular aspect of developing successful grant proposals.

The teams prepare and deliver at least two oral presentations. The first describes their research project and a second – on the last day of the Retreat – presents their work plan for the continued development of their project and obtaining funding after the Retreat. Presenting to the other participants is both a skill in its own right and helps in developing the research proposal.

Altogether, the Retreat is a sustained period of intense concentrated work - exhilarating, extending and challenging. The rewards of success - for the participants, for their organisations and ultimately for the NHS and the population it serves - are considerable.

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