How can local authority staff be supported to implement evidence-based practices for mental health? – by supporting the existing staff to become research-active themselves! Rachel Murphy joined one of the first cohorts of practitioner researchers on the Pre-Doctoral Local Authority Fellowship last year. Here she explains the amazing professional development she has gained from the scheme and encourages others to consider it too.
Whilst working in the Mental Health Service for North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC), I received a global email from our Human Resources Department regarding a Pre-Doctoral Local Authority Fellowship Scheme with the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). This seemed an exciting opportunity whereby the NIHR would support the development of practitioner researchers within Local Authorities. I expressed my interest and was supported by NYCC to apply for the Fellowship.
The Pre-Doctoral Fellowship could be completed over 12, 24 or 30 months, and the application required details of how that time would be spent: developing skills in research and leadership and preparing to submit a competitive Doctoral Fellowship application in the future. I liaised with NYCC and with my chosen University, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), to develop a bespoke training and development plan, and I was delighted when my application was successful.
I spent 12 months fulfilling the tasks detailed in the plan, and plenty more besides. My plan consisted of three main components: developing my professional leadership skills, developing research skills and knowledge, and developing a Doctoral research proposal.
I maintained involvement with NYCC through ongoing involvement in leadership meetings and training programmes in addition to participating in a research group and becoming involved in NYCC’s research collaborations.
Academically, I completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Researching Social Care, which provided a sound basis for understanding social care research practice. I also completed a further postgraduate module, which enabled me to undertake a small-scale pilot study and put my learning into practice. Being a postgraduate research student at UCLan enabled a wealth of opportunities, and I was able to engage in many other learning events in addition to those within my chosen course.
I had fortnightly supervision sessions with my academic supervisor from UCLan and sessions with my career mentor from NYCC every six weeks. These proved hugely beneficial in condensing my learning, keeping me focused, and identifying the next steps within my research journey.
Having the protected time to focus solely on this fellowship enabled me to develop valuable links with researchers and practitioners across the world who share my area of research interest. It was through these connections and in reviewing the literature that I identified the knowledge gap that I wish to pursue for my Doctoral Fellowship application.
Having completed my Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, I am now keen to apply for a Doctoral Fellowship and am delighted that the NIHR is continuing to offer this to local authority staff. The fellowships are fully funded and effectively support research development within the social care workforce. My fellowship has given me the skills, knowledge, motivation and passion to drive forward the research agenda within social care. Furthermore, my fellowship and associated involvements in NYCC’s research collaborations have enabled me to move into a temporary Research Development role within NYCC to support the development of other research practitioners and begin to embed research into social care practice.
The NIHR’s new Local Authority Academic Fellowship (LAAF) Programme and its similarly focussed short placement awards have been designed to support individuals based within local authority settings to develop as health and/or social care researchers whilst retaining their existing employment and salary. These opportunities all invite applications annually, and currently comprise:
Rachel strongly recommends preparing your application early. Find out more about the application process for the Pre-Doctoral Academic Fellowship here: https://www.nihr.ac.uk/documents/pre-doctoral-local-authority-fellowship-scheme-applicant-guidance-notes/26693
Find out more about the NIHR’s Local Authority Academic Fellowship programme and associated opportunities .