• 11 March 2019
  • 4 min read

What does a successful THIS fellowship application look like?

Our second round of fellowship competitions has come round quickly! We opened the application window for our post-doc fellowship 05 March 2019, and universities have until 14 May 2019 to apply. The senior competition will follow a week later, and our PhD competition returns in 2020.

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After awarding 12 fellowships – at PhD, post-doc and senior levels – to eight UK universities in 2018, we’re excited to be able to support another group of talented researchers to lead high-quality studies that will advance the field of healthcare improvement studies.

The application window for our post-doc fellowship has opened and universities have until 14 May 2019 to apply. 

As successful as the fellowship programme has been so far, we’re still thinking about ways to improve the process. [We can't help ourselves, it's what we do! -Ed.]

So, we listened to feedback from applicants and we’ve made a few tweaks to how the fellowships will work in practice. We also recognised that we could attract the strongest possible applications by providing more guidance on what we’re looking for in a fellowship proposal.

In anticipation of our upcoming webinar on 27 March on the same topic, here’s a quick summary of what makes a strong THIS Institute fellowship application, and what made our 2018 fellows successful.

What makes for a strong application

Applications that align with THIS Institute’s mission

The best applications from our 2018 competition were those that directly addressed our mission to strengthen the evidence base for improving healthcare. We especially enjoyed receiving applications that supported our scientific objectives:

  1. What works and why in techniques aimed at improving quality and safety
  2. What works and why in improvement interventions
  3. Challenges related to standardisation, harmonisation, replication and scaling

THIS Institute is interested in studying improvement, rather than doing improvement. That distinction defines who we are as an institute, and is crucial to the success of a fellowship application.

In order to support THIS Institute’s mission, fellowship projects must contribute to the scientific understanding of how to improve healthcare. They should use a systematic approach to examine the organisation and delivery of healthcare, and generate evidence that can be used to improve quality and safety.

But: we received several applications in 2018 for projects aimed at improving the quality of one aspect of healthcare without generating transferable learning beyond that specific topic. We feared those projects might not strengthen the field overall – for example through producing new knowledge, methods or theory – beyond the specific context of application. Our selection panels struggled to prioritise these projects.

Studies that bring together diverse disciplines

The field of improvement transcends many academic and non-academic backgrounds. The best applications for THIS Institute fellowships will create novel interdisciplinary links, or include fresh thinking from fields within and outside of healthcare.

We’re keen to attract applications from specialists in engineering, law, ethics and many other fields that can provide exciting insights into healthcare improvement, in addition to disciplines such as health services research, public health, epidemiology and social science.

Highly actionable research questions that matter to NHS staff and patients

The most compelling research questions from our 2018 applications aimed to solve problems of concern to NHS staff and patients. Many of them also addressed the improvement goals of healthcare organisations.

These projects often focused on unglamorous, neglected areas of healthcare, with research questions that used robust study designs to deliver scientific excellence. Our selection panels really liked those.

Fellows that can lead the future of healthcare improvement studies

We want to support new leaders in healthcare improvement studies, and so we’re keen to hear from applicants who demonstrate leadership qualities, and who want to become advocates for the field in the future.

Full guidance and criteria for each of our fellowship competitions can be found in our fellowship pages.

What we funded in 2018 and why

We’re happy to respond to pre-submission enquiries to ensure that your project matches our vision. For this or any other queries, please contact fellowships@thisinstitute.cam.ac.uk.

Below is a taste of those that caught our attention in 2018.

Senior fellowship

Dr Graham Pullin, University of Dundee

Graham’s project will look at how to co-design a sense of ownership in rehabilitation services, furthering his disability-led research into prosthetics. We liked it because it explores a topic that currently has limited support, it studies the relationship between design and improvement studies, and it proposes impact through interdisciplinary insights and conversations.

Post-doctoral fellowship

Dr Eilidh Duncan, University of Aberdeen

Eilidh will study how the ‘audit and feedback’ process may be used to improve dental care. We like this because it lines up with our scientific goal to study what works and why, and focuses on dental care, a somewhat neglected area of healthcare services. We also liked how it uses a low-cost, potentially scalable feedback approach that might be useful across many other areas of healthcare.

PhD fellowship

Prof Paul Harper (supporting a PhD student), Cardiff University Health and Social Care Improvement Research Network

This project will explore the relationship between service times in the NHS and staff workload in order to assess and quantify workforce behaviours. It will use both analytical queueing and simulation models, as well as ethnographic methods, to help NHS workforce planners quantify the necessary size and skill-set of staff to optimise system performance and provide safe staffing levels. We liked this project because it is novel, explores methods in the study of improvement, and could produce very scalable results. 


Sign up for the webinar on 27 March